Thursday, June 27, 2013

ADHD and Gadgets? An Interesting Look at Attention and Devices

A couple days ago I wrote that my daughter was often upset with me and her husband because of our attachment to our devices.  Today, I stumbled across a link that looks at device addiction and its relationship to ADHD.  I found the article worthy of discussion, and it has raised several questions for me.

According the article, when children are engaged with devices, it looks like they are paying attention - and they are -but the attention is different than that tradionally considered necessary for achievement in school.  Christopher Lucas, associate professor of child psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, notes that while attention associated with successful academic endeavors requires sustained focus in absence of rewards, games present on devices provide intermittent rewards in the form of wins.  

The brain's reaction to the wins is a release of the feel-good substance dopamine.  In other words,  a win produces the same effect as Ritalin.  Children with ADHD who are engaged with devices are in fact self-medicating without the need for pharmaceuticals.

There are many, like my daughter, who see this as a problem.  I agree devices can be addicting and over-engagement can lead to antisocial behavior.  The author notes that children become agitated when detached from their devices.  

Others find this effect to be a positive, if educators can use the apps to engage children in learning and virtual socialization behaviors.

There are two very good videos presented in this article.  It is recommended for reading and viewing.  This article is well-balanced and as I mentioned, thought-provoking.

Here are my questions:

What are the differences between engagement with devices and other media?  My husband has made fun of me for years for shutting everything else out when I was engaged in reading.  Is attachment to devices physiologically so different?  If a reader is engaged in the content and making connections, does this not produce a "win" response?  Or is it the release from the electronic stimulation what causes the dopamine release?

I remember watching television on September 11, 2001.  I was overwhelmed by the replaying of images, the interviews, and although I didn't notice at the time, the volume and the rapidity at which the images changed.  When I got home that evening I  flipped channels and came upon a panel discussion on PBS.  I immediately was overwhelmed by a calm and peace.  It was then that I noticed the discophany of the CNN broadcast.  I couldn't turn away from it, but I didn't notice the stimulation until way after the fact.  While this may seem like a digression from the main topic, I am wondering if it is engagement/disengagement that would cause the dopamine release, rather than the medium itself. I wonder if the amount of dopamine released is dependent on the stimulation provided by the medium.

Back to kids and their devices.  My philosophy is that if a kid who is predisposed to ADHD can self-medicate with his devices, perhaps we all (teachers,parents, medical professionals) should look into a therapeutic method of using these devices to educate and treat those with these tendencies.  If nothing else, it is worth a look.

Rock, Margaret. "A Nation of Kids With Gadgets and ADHD." Mobiledia. Mobiledia, 17 June 2013. Web. 27 June 2013. .

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