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The secret drug that encourages drivers to check their phones

Can you remember life before you had a cellphone? Did you have a constant urge to pull over every time you passed a phone booth and check what your friend had for lunch or what a politician said? It is unlikely. Now, thanks to our cellphones, these things seem essential to many people. They pick up their phones and check every few minutes, even while driving.

Companies use phones to manipulate chemicals in our brains

Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical that our bodies produce when we do certain things. It provides a happy feeling which rewards us and encourages us to continue doing these things. Its traditional role was to motivate us to perform actions that ensure our survival, such as eating and having sex. The companies that make our phones and the apps we use on them have worked out how to manipulate dopamine. They use it to keep us checking our phones.

Think about social media. The “like” button creates dopamine rewards when you post things. When you see that someone has liked your post you feel happy. That is the dopamine. It is an addictive drug, which is why people check their “likes” so frequently. They want another hit of this natural but powerful chemical.

News websites work in a similar way. Their live feeds encourage you to check for changes in the election result or the sports score. Once upon a time, you waited until the papers came out the following day to find these things out.

You could argue that those behind these sites are responsible for crashes distracted drivers cause. In some way, they are. However, it is the driver who must bear the final responsibility for their actions. If a distracted driver injures you in a crash, they are who you need to hold responsible.

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