Pulitzer Prize-winning author

Sexting and your brain on computers

Phones don’t sext people, people sext people; or do they?

From the food-for-thought files: Could the neurology of device use in part explain the recent Congressional sexting scandals?

(Bad phone, no donut!)

In our New York Times series last year, “your brain on computers,” we showed that people get a “dopamine squirt” — a little burst of adrenaline — when they use their devices. We showed that people fill moments of downtime with their devices. They get bored. The crave action. The device is there to fill the gaps. (Y’know what might kill some time here and is more fun than reading budget reports? Tweeting my pants).

Now, imagine if you’re an adrenaline junkie by nature, a Congressperson or someone who craves attention/the limelight/validation. The device becomes this ever-present fix. Tweet or text something, get a response. Why wait for election day? Or a press conference. The stimulus/response cycle is as near as the pocket. All foul wordplay is incidental.

Major caveat: I haven’t covered this story. I know nothing personally about Mr. Weiner or others that have had their digital peccadilloes. I speak not as Times reporter here but as observer of device use.

And so I wonder, in as much as we have been looking at powerful men and their failings, we might want to look at the gadget that becomes such a powerful facilitator. True, phones don’t sext people, people sext people. But could gadgets play a bigger role than they’re getting credit for?

It’s age-old dance of motive and opportunity, with a twist. On its face, the motive is provided by the person’s psychology, while the device provides the opportunity. But might we also say that the device, through the way it plays to our love of action, has a motivational role too?

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