Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mobile Devices Exacerbate ADHD

Did I succeed in getting you to click on this link, despite the fact that you must have been doing something else?

It's no mystery: a huge number of people (in the order of millions) is addicted to mobile devices.  And let's not mince words here.  The DSM's golden rule for mental disorders is that there is significant impairment in life functioning.  Mental health professionals, and most thinking people, can agree that the degree to which people are hooked on mobile devices is causing significant impairment.  Here are some obvious examples:
  • parents aren't able to control the amount of electronics that their kids consume
  • couples go on dates and stare at their phones instead of each other
  • in schools, a huge percentage of conflicts that reach principals' offices started on social media
As mental health professionals, we had better have a plan for how we are going to deal with the 31 new flavors of problems caused by our societal addiction to technology and mobile devices.  Don't get me wrong, the benefits of technology are great--but the side effects on our brains and behavior should be a HUGE area of focus for the fields of mental health and psychology.  And perhaps it is because of mental health professionals' general aversion to technology that explains why our field is so far behind in addressing these issues.

In a 2007 mindfulness workshop for employees of Google, Jon Kabat-Zinn declared that our society has epidemic levels of ADHD.  If there was any doubt that the prevalence of ADHD was problematic in 2007--the same year that the iPhone came out--then there should be no doubt that this is the case now.  As Kabat-Zinn argued in his workshop, part of the problem is our cultural addiction to "getting things done."  Enter iPhone, Siri, and mobile marketing, and in essence we have a personal trainer that is wiring our brains to be distracted.

Let's consider the symbiotic relationship between user interface design and ADHD symptoms.  A user interface designer generally will try to achieve the following when developing an app or software:
  • the user should be able to guess what to do, without being told
  • the user should get what they want with the minimum number of clicks
  • the user should be able to switch between tasks as easily as possible (think browser windows, settings, notifications, emails, etc.)
Now let's take a look at ADHD symptoms in children (taken from Google)
  • gets distracted and forgets things easily
  • switches too quickly from one thing to the next
  • has trouble with directions
Setting aside the controversy about medicating children with ADHD symptoms, is it any wonder that kids are being diagnosed with ADHD more frequently?

If you are a clinician that recognizes the immensity of this problem, please share your resources, or rate existing resources in Utila's Clinical Tool Library.  Have a look at the ADHD resources already in the library.


  1. hi there
    your area of interest is right up my street.
    I have been looking at the way technology is affecting our society for months now and am staggered at the extent this medium is impacting on us all.
    Yet little or nothing is written on it and many don't see it as being an issue at all.
    I would be interested to see more studies being carried out on ADHD and technology as I think that my generation and generations to come (that have gorwn up with the internet etc) will be effected hugely by the intergration of technology into their lives.
    I would be touched if you would take a look at my blog on the subject and let me know your thoughts

  2. Thanks for your comment--definitely interested in taking a look at your blog. I agree that we need studies that empirically demonstrate what we all intuitively know (there was one recently that showed that parents are paying attention to their kids less when they are on smart phones--duh!). I have a feeling we are going to see an explosion of technology related mental health problems--especially when you have toddlers addicted to iPads and iPhones...

  3. Hmm. If I get on Facebook or twitter I can lose large amounts of time but if I am out with friends or otherwise engaged I don't feel compelled to keep checking my phone.

  4. Wasn't gaming and internet addiction starting to be addressed by new DSMV 5 Or is that a differing issue? Concerning none the less.

    1. According to DSM5, internet gaming warrants further clinical research...surely researchers have this on their radar by now! http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Internet%20Gaming%20Disorder%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf