To suit our hunger, there are a lot of social media platforms that keep popping up these days. And surely our brain doesn’t want to miss all of that, does it? If we were to look at a normal routine of a person consuming digitally then he can’t stop but engage with the content produced by others.

Going over so many contents from different people, the person can’t help but binge over by scrolling along. The casualty and consequence are far from the relaxation a person might be feeling after a sequence of consumption. Is there a better way to reduce this casualty? that’s what we’ll take dive ahead into.

Thinking Systems & Biases

Before getting to understand what happens during our digital engagement, we’ll take a ride into understanding our thinking systems.

Source: Photo by meo from Pexels

In the book “Thinking Fast & Slow“, Dale Kahneman hints about our two way of thinking system, the Quicker one (Reflexive) & Slower One (Reflective) that takes time to evaluate harder things. Among the two, it is the first one that creates an array of problems, by developing intuitive decisions like judging people one the first basis without a second thought, which would have avoided if the second system had control in the first place. Thereby producing an array of biases.

There are many biases created by the drawback of System 1 (Fast Thinking). While engaging with digital content, we engage with one of those biases, specifically called Variable Reinforcement.

What is Variable Reinforcement

In the real world, we have encountered tons of situations where we get mesmerized by the little rewards from actions we do and ultimately tend to repeat those actions again. This Response reaction is what called Reinforcement.

In Book “Hooked: How to build habit-forming products“, Nir Eyal mentions about Skinner’s experiment, where two mice being the part of the experiment would get food little differently whenever they press the lever. The first mouse gets the food whenever he presses the lever, whereas the second mouse would get a small amount or a big chunk or sometimes none, on pressing the lever i.e Variable amounts. This made the second one to press the lever compulsively for food, ultimately trying to predict the pattern of feeding. This indicates the craving nature of predictability that humans also inhibit in everything thing they do in daily routine.

Skinners Experiment: Operant Condition

Let’s say, for example Getting a call from an unknown number makes us think whether it could an emergency or that buzz of WhatsApp notification or habit of going over the channels of Television with 2 seconds interval in between, to peek & know the unexpected. This “urge” of what will be on the other side keeps us hooked and gives a sense of reward, which as humans we tend to repeat for receiving it again and again.

Scrolling through Social Media Feed

The Activity of Scrolling is nothing far but a form of variable reinforcement in disguise.

Source: Giphy

When we scroll through the feed, we engage ourselves with the unexpected surprise which we get as a reward while going down through the feed. Some post gives a high dose of surprise (like news of flash sale) or a low dose of surprise. Giving a sense of variable rewards as scrolled through.

Therefore the “urge to know” behind these little surprises we get in different forms like changing channels, scrolling feeds, WhatsApp notifications sound ultimately keeps us addicted, and brings about the release of dopamine (a feel-good hormone).

One should be aware, in order to avoid falling in a trap. And the instances & situations mentioned above are just small quantities in relation to the real world, where this happens throughout the day of a person.

I hope you got a good sense of what to look out for when engaging with digital content next time.

If that made sense, Read more about Digital Effects on your Mental Health to safeguard yourself.