Summary of How Technology Gets Us Hooked

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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 this summary, you will learn

  • What pigeon experiments can teach about human motivation,
  • How tech companies hijack desirable human traits and steer them toward self-destructive ends, and
  • Why people quickly lose interest in games that let them win all the time.

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.



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 same...

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