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Dr. Gary Small Kicks off 2011 NCRG Conference with Talk on How Technology Changes the Brain

by: NCRG Staff | Oct 4, 2011

The 12th Annual NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction kicked off Sunday in Las Vegas with a plenary session featuring Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Center on Aging at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA. Dr. Small’s session was titled, “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.”

To begin his talk, Dr. Small started with a brief exercise for the audience to demonstrate the emotional impact that technology can have on people. He first asked the audience to turn on their phones, with the sound on, and be mindful of any feelings that the sound of their phone turning on might cause. He suggested that some people might have feelings of excitement or anticipation when turning on their phone. He then asked the audience to hand their phone to someone else and suggested that giving away one’s phone might cause feelings of nervousness or insecurity. After establishing this link between emotions and technology, Dr. Small went on to discuss the brain mechanisms that are activated when a person uses technology.

Addictions are, in Dr. Small’s estimation, a “battle in the brain” between the pleasure center of the brain that produces dopamine and the parts of the brain that control higher thought. Research has shown that dopamine is generally accepted as a key component in many addictive activities. Dr. Small believes that the connection between dopamine and technology addictions reinforces the similarity between more traditional substance use disorders and non-substance disorders like gambling disorders and technological addictions.    

Dr. Small suggested that the key to having a healthy relationship with technology was about balance. That is, keeping online and offline activities in balance and using technological tools for things that they are useful for while not delegating all memory tasks and interactions to the online world. Dr. Small elaborated on his suggestions for technological balance in the audio interview he did with the NCRG before the conference, and in his book. 

For more information about Dr. Small’s work, including his book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, please visit his website. For more information about the 12th Annual NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction, please visit the NCRG website, and stay tuned to this blog for updates.      

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