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Why You Should Avoid The News
Some time ago I stopped reading and watching the news. No newspapers, no news programs and no internet snippets of world drama. I stopped because I didn’t feel it had any positive effect on my life and I suspected it might even have a detrimental effect. Sometimes when watching or reading the news I felt myself anticipating for another big event in the world, something to shake the very core of my being. Other times I checked my smart-phone every hour to get my news-fix. Was I truly in need to know what comes through the filters of the media or was I just a news-junky?
I was expecting the latter. After some research I found some clues as to what happened. Our brain is wired to notice new things and ignore what we already know. We aren’t evolved to constantly admire the same things over and over again but to seek novelty in what has remained unexplored. And this novelty seeking, is quite addicting. When you are reading a new news article, or this article right now, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t produce the feel good people normally associate with it, but it causes the craving for the feel good. This craving can even continue when the pleasurable effects of a stimulus are non-existent.
It is no wonder that almost every addiction we know of is in some way linked to the dopamine system. An internet addiction is very similar, dopamine wise, to food, sex or a drugs addiction. The effects of reading small sensationalist stories that don’t matter and don’t require any thinking is threefold. First, desensitization, the fact that you will crave more and intense stimulation over time and tend to neglect things that are more important to you. Second, sensitization, the phenomenon that in a certain contexts you become hyper-sensitive because you associate the situation with a dopamine release. For instance, you are much more likely to crave for a moment to check your e-mail if you spot a computer or a smart phone than if you are walking in nature. The third effect of an addiction is hypofrontality, atrophy of the frontal cortex, whereby the activity of the frontal lobes of the brain decreases which in turn makes it harder to control your impulses.