Dopamine Myths: Scraping Online Media on Dopamine and Technology Addiction

From popular documentaries like “The Social Dilemma” to government inquiries into “tech giants”, worries about how new technologies like social media may harm us fill the headlines. One particularly prominent media story focuses on technology addiction and “dopamine hits”: the idea is that social media features such as “likes” are inspired by reward mechanisms in games or gambling machines. And like these, they release the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which is the same neurochemical mechanism that underlies drug or gambling addiction.

This story is backed by little empirical evidence and misreads the complex and pervasive roles of dopamine in cognition, and yet it powerfully shapes how we talk about new media and with it, actions by companies, investors, policy-makers, regulators, and individuals, resulting in ineffective and potentially even harmful practices like “dopamine fasting” or “dopamine detox”, and potentially misguided regulation.

To counter this, the aim of this project is to empirically establish the major topics around dopamine and technology addiction in current online technology media. This is a necessary first step for future critical interrogation of the major arguments made publicly about dopamine and technology.

To undertake the project, the student will:

  • Scrape current technology news media for articles that have “dopamine” in their body text.
  • Use automated topic modeling on these articles to identify key texts.
  • Conduct a critical discourse analysis of exemplary (“central”) texts for each identified topic 

Required Skills

We are seeking an advanced candidate for one role, with the following skill:

  • Methodological knowledge in web-scraping and NLP methods for topic extraction and modelling (Essential)

How to Apply

For more details on the summer school application process (including eligibility and funding) please go here: https://digitalcreativity.ac.uk/news/dc-labs-summer-school-2021 

If you would like to ask any informal questions about the research project, please contact Prof Sebastian Deterding sebastian.deterding@york.ac.uk and Dr Joe Cutting joe.cutting@york.ac.uk 

For questions about the programme, logistics etc, please contact Ella Eyre, DC Labs Administrator, on enquiries@digitalcreativity.ac.uk 

Supervisors

Professor Sebastian Deterding, Department of Theatre, Film and Interactive Media
Dr David Zendle, Department of Computer Science
Dr Sondess Missaoui, Department of Theatre, Film and Interactive Media

Further Reading

Parkin, Simon (2018). Has dopamine got us hooked on tech? https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/04/has-dopamine-got-us-hooked-on-tech-facebook-apps-addiction 

Etchells, Peter (2021). Why we need to stop loot boxes from becoming another moral panic. https://www.sciencefocus.com/comment/why-we-need-to-stop-loot-boxes-from-becoming-another-moral-panic/