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How Technology Gets Us Hooked

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How Technology Gets Us Hooked

From a young age, humans love to press buttons that light up and make a noise. The thrill of positive feedback lies at the heart of addiction to gambling, games, and social media

The Guardian,

5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Tech companies use a nifty bag of tricks to get and keep you addicted to their products.

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  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening
  • Background


Why does the little like button below your latest Facebook post make you keep checking your profile? Because you never know how many likes you’ll get. Unpredictable feedback motivates people, says Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at New York University. He explains that as opposed to substance addictions, behavioral addictions hijack human traits that are in and of themselves desirable, such as the drive to improve and to grow. However, addictive technologies may employ these traits toward destructive ends, such as getting you to spend long hours playing video games or waste money on slot machines. getAbstract recommends Alter’s essay on the psychology behind addictive technologies to educators, social activists and any one tempted to check their Facebook feed before reading on. 


In 1971, psychologist Michael Zeiler wanted to find out what motivates humans to display desirable behavior. To this end, he conducted an experiment with pigeons. Knowing that even lower-order animals thrive on feedback, he rewarded them with a treat every time they pecked at a button. Zeiler found that when he programmed the button to give out treats randomly, “the pigeons pecked almost twice as often” than when the button dispensed a treat every time they pecked. The “mystery of mixed feedback” thus motivates pigeons the...

About the Author

Adam Alter is an associate professor of marketing and psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business and the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

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