Monday, November 15, 2010

What Email and Slot Machines Have In Common

(And why they're so addictive).
We’re animals – we have animal brains. All animal brains have the circuitry in place for producing operant conditioning. It’s a fundamental psychological process, and just the sort that can create behaviours what operate automatically, or in spite of our consciously telling ourselves we should do otherwise. Checking email is a behaviour that has variable interval reinforcement. Sometimes, but not every time, the behaviour produces a reward. Everyone loves to get an email from a friend, or some good news, or even an amusing web link. Sometimes checking your email will get you one of these rewards. And because you can never tell which time you check will produce the reward, checking all the time is reinforced, even if most of the time checking your email turns out to have been pointless. You still check because you never know when the reward will come.

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