The Hidden Psychology Of Technology, with Dr. Lisa Strohman

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Tech companies have a long history of using neuroscience to hook children at a young age, such as giving them access to Google suite accounts in the classroom. However, as Dr. Lisa Strohman illustrates, you can’t choose between technology and psychology, you must learn how to use both responsibly. In this second episode with Strohman, the founder of Digital Citizen Academy, she and the Amens discuss how you can help your kids avoid attention hijack.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are here with Dr. Lisa Strohman, [inaudible 00:00:52] it's just so important during the pandemic, but actually for the rest of this child's life.
Tana Amen: And Doctor, if you have not caught her previous episodes with us, please listen to them. They are so amazing.
Dr Daniel Amen: And she also has a great TED talk as well.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: So let's talk about the psychology of technology. I became horrified as a child psychiatrist when they unleashed this technology on our society with virtually no neuroscience study, or no psychological study.
Dr Daniel Amen: And just like you said, 1987, Atari came into my house. My son was 11 and he wouldn't stop with it. I'm like, "You can play for half an hour. This is so cool. I didn't have cool toys like this when I ..." But he wouldn't stop. And he went from being an A student to a B and C student with a lot more fighting at home, at which point I took it out of the house and I'm like, "No, you want to play at your friend's house, that's up to you. But we're not doing this over and over and over again." I mean, clearly it was going to a bad pattern.
Dr Daniel Amen: And then in 1997, Nintendo produced Pokemon cartoon in Japan where there was an explosion on the cartoon of red, white and yellow lights at four and a half flashes per second, which is actually a seizure frequency. And all of a sudden 729 Japanese children went to the emergency room with new onset seizures. And I'm like, okay, somebody should be paying attention. We cannot unleash this technology on unsuspecting developing minds without somebody saying stop.
Dr Daniel Amen: And you had talked about your experience with Atari. Teach us more about the psychology behind technology.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: I mean, it's very calculated. I think that when you look at, even back before we had big gaming platforms and things like that, it's we were creating interface in the business world where licenses happened and we only had access. And so it's been this evolution where we are creating dependency upon the technology in very, to me, very suspicious ways.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: So in school systems for instance, we're granting and giving kids access to Google Suite or Chromebooks or. But you look at that and you're creating a consumer for life, and so you're getting them trained upon those platforms. So the psychology of it is, as a parent, and I'm in the field, I had no choice. My child was given a Gmail account and they said, "Don't worry, you can go in and create a family account." I talked to all these parents. Well, my daughter turned 13 this past week, and I got an email and it said, "Congratulations, your daughter now has full control of her accounts." Just wanted to let you know, whether I ...
Dr Lisa Strohma...: So think about that. So my daughter is competent, capable, but she's an authentic 13 year old. She doesn't have devices. She's a kid. And we haven't had a conversation, but they just opened it. So what if I had a developmentally challenged child who maybe had a developmental age of seven and her chronological age gave her 13, there's no thoughtfulness forward on the psychology of how do we make parents aware? How do we understand that the industry is going after our young children for their data, for their patterns, for their loyalty on these platforms? And that's the part that I think, it is an unfair battle.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: Food is the same thing. When I gave my TED talk, I met somebody who worked for Kellogg's and she said, "I was a neuro ..." Or no, I'm sorry, "Nutri chemical engineer." And I said, "What did that mean?" And she said, "I was creating powders to put on the cereals to make them addictive."
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: And so when she met me and I was talking about how technology laces in these same screen refreshes and colors and all of those things, those are some of the psychology tricks. It's the same exact thing.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: So simply turning your phone to grayscale. If you've never done that before, I would say to all of your followers and listeners to try that. If you go into your settings and you turn off the color and make it to grayscale, you will find out very quickly it is not as interesting of an item to look at.
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:05:55].
Dr Lisa Strohma...: Because the psychology of how that lights of your brain is very different.
Tana Amen: Oh that's interesting. So I have a question. So we're talking about some of the gaming devices, which I don't know if this is true in other homes, but in our home I've got my daughter and my two nieces, so all girls. They don't have that much interest in those things. But try to take the devices away, their phones, and Instagram and Snapchat and there's new things-
Dr Daniel Amen: TikTok.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: TikTok.
Tana Amen: Okay. And I'm like, whoa. I mean, girls seem to be like dually attached to that. I mean, way more attached to that than anything else. I don't know if there's a difference in genders what they're attached to and why. But also, these new platforms pop up so fast, I feel like they don't even give us time to fully research them. I had actually, by the time my nieces came to live with us, they already had TikTok. And so I was like, "I don't know that much about TikTok. I'm not sure about this."
Tana Amen: And by then my daughter sees it and she signs up for an account before I even realize it. And then I find out that you're selling them all of your information. So they own all of your information when you sign up for those. And I'm like, "Wait, I don't like this." And by then they're all completely attached to it, now you've got a battle on your hands.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: Right. TikTok is an international server, international company. So we have no control. They can edit, they can modify, they can republish it. Absolutely.
Tana Amen: Yeah. It's just crazy. So is there a difference in genders, and what about some of these new platforms [crosstalk 00:07:18]?
Dr Lisa Strohma...: Yeah, there definitely is. I think that again, girls mature faster than boys. They end up going through puberty a little bit earlier, a little bit younger. The platforms that the girls are going into are all really looking at how do we portray and project ourselves, and how do we get affirmation from the world back.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: So that part about us that we have that internal affirmation of, we're smart, we do the right thing, we present ourselves authentically, those character traits really are played upon by the industry. And the girls tend to pick it up first. They put themselves out there in a very sexualized way-
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: And you have not seen the filters and how fantastic ... One of my friends has a daughter who's on it. She sent me the difference between a filter of her daughter on Snapchat and if there's a way to interlay it to you, I will. But it is incredibly different from what she really looks like to where it is.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: So it's the sexualization, and then of course now you come along and they really mastered it. The girls are reinforcing each other and all that stuff. And then these poor boys come walking in who have boy brains and they have testosterone that gets popped in, and now they have all these girls that are placing themselves out there on these very visually, highly stimulated platforms. And there's just no chance you're going to lose ... The boys are going to come in.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: And so what I see happen when once you get those girls into high school, is girls will end up going over to boys houses and then they'll sit there and watch the boys game or they'll jump in and kind of try, and it's this parallel dating world or-
Tana Amen: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:08:59].
Dr Lisa Strohma...: And it ends with some sort of sexual event and then the girls come back and say, "Wait, is that how it goes?" So there's a lot of very different social interactions. And the psychology of it is that girls aren't being taught what real self-confidence and self-control is on these platforms. They're literally rewarded for putting themselves out there in the most unedited and sexualized way.
Dr Daniel Amen: Well, and I'm working on a new book for next year called Your Brain Is Always Listening. And I talk about the dragons from the past that still breathe fire on your emotional brain. And one of the dragons is called the less-than dragon, or the inferior flawed dragon, the inferior flawed dragon. And whenever they're on these sites, they ... In fact, you actually said, the more you were on the site, you started-
Tana Amen: It took me five minutes. So I'm not even a person who ... I never scroll, I don't have time. I barely go on because I've got my own platforms. That's the most amount of time I have to go on them is to answer questions and I get off, because we've got professional platforms and professional pages.
Tana Amen: But for some reason it was Christmas, I was shopping. And so I was doing some Christmas shopping, I don't like the mall, I hate the mall actually. So I do all my shopping online, and somehow I saw something and clicked on it and then I found myself scrolling. And it took five minutes before I was feeling awful about myself and I'm like, "Wait, I know better." I had to kick my own butt because I'm like, "I know better."
Tana Amen: And I find all of a sudden I'm looking at these women that I actually know personally. They're beautiful women, but they look perfect. And I'm like, "What is happening right now? Why do I feel so awful? Why do I suddenly feel like I need to go visit the plastic surgeon after five minutes of scrolling?" It's crazy.
Dr Daniel Amen: Right. And I think that actually may be driving this epidemic rise of suicide in teenage girls because they feel inferior. They feel flawed when they look in the mirror and then they see what are on these social media sites.
Tana Amen: My daughter says it all the time. She's like, "I don't understand why all these girls ..." Right now she's homeschooled. But the school she went to, she's like, "Why do they all look so perfect?" I'm like, "Honey, supermodels don't look like supermodels. You need to remember that."
Dr Lisa Strohma...: Right, right.
Tana Amen: Supermodels don't look like supermodels. So in my generation it was airbrushing, now it's photo ... What is it? Photoshop. Photoshop.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: Yeah, Photoshop. And they are basically layered into the programs and platforms hat they're using.
Tana Amen: Right. They're filters.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: They don't even have to work at it. It's just done automatically for them. Yeah.
Dr Daniel Amen: Craziness. All right. I distracted us. Psychology of technology. What else comes to mind when you think of that, Lisa?
Dr Lisa Strohma...: I think that we need to recognize that today it isn't a choice between one or the other. I think that a lot of people are talking to me about mental health or mental illness. Yeah, in technology, do I have to choose. We don't have an option anymore. So we're going to have to figure out how do we have a positive interface that supports our psychology with technology, versus harms it.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: So exactly, Tana, like you just said. How do we manage our own understanding and see ourselves going down that slippery slope, and understand what our psychology is because we all have sprinkles of something. So if you have OCD or if you have a little bit of anxiety or depression, you're going to get triggered in ways through these devices or these platforms. So the psychology of understanding that technology is constantly influencing us.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: And that really, even if you're not on it, and there was a great study the London School of Economics did. And they went in and they had 140,000 students, and all they did simply was take the cell phone, the personal device, away from the kids. And what they found was their grades went up on average almost 8%.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr Lisa Strohma...: Literally. The kids still had technology in the classroom. They were still using it to learn, but they didn't have personal devices. So it tells you that the research that shows that we lose about 40% of our attention when we have a device in front of us, is really accurate. So the psychology of that is understanding, all right. In that 40%, what is the psychology being impacted or influenced by? Is it, "Oh, I hope that I get that text from that person." "I'm wondering what this job is going to come in as," or, "I wonder ..." So what is the psychology of that unknown, even when we're not connected to our technology? So, that's important.
Tana Amen: It sounds like [crosstalk 00:13:49] ADD.
Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, no, the incidence of ADD has more than doubled since the early nineties. And is it a Ritalin deficiency syndrome, or is it our attention has been hijacked? And it sounds like you're saying in a lot of cases, children and adults, their attention has actually been hijacked.
Dr Daniel Amen: All right, stay with us. When we come back, we're going to talk about how parents can protect their children from online predators. But also companies that are really going after the mind share of your child. Stay with us.
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