How to Kick a Mindless Scrolling Habit
If you’re hooked on the scroll, here’s how to separate you from your phone
The first thing I do when I wake up is check Twitter on my phone. I know this is a bad habit, not just because the app’s small print is starting to strain my eyes, but because my day starts off with an endless scroll. Sometimes I’m able to put my phone down after a quick look at the notifications, but usually I get sucked in, scrolling through bad news, bad takes, and good jokes until I realize I’m running late.
The mindless scroll isn’t limited to my mornings. I scroll through my Instagram feed at parties. I click through Tinder in line at the grocery store. I literally opened Twitter just now, right before writing this sentence.
It’s hard for me to stay off my phone, and I’m not alone — according to a recent Pew Research Center study, about 28% of adults in the United States go online “almost constantly,” thanks in large part to the lure of apps. It turns out our brains are specifically wired to love endless scrolling — a problem UX designers are increasingly seeing as an ethical one.
“The scrolling doesn’t draw us in, but it keeps us there for much longer than we might be if the feeds ended, or if we had to click buttons to reveal new content,” says Adam Alter, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and the author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. “People tend to function on autopilot until something inside their heads or in the world around them subtly or explicitly suggests it’s time to move on. Reaching the end of a feed is one such cue; removing the end point short-circuits that cue.”
It also doesn’t help that our brains itch for the dopamine spike we get when we open a familiar app, explains psychologist Joshua Ehrlich. “It really is an addiction, and we’re wired for this,” he says. “The same brain pathways get stimulated as they do in a chemical addiction.”
That phenomenon is great for tech companies who make money off your clicks, but it’s less great for your brain. Alter says that though we don’t yet know the extent of the harm caused by mindless scrolling, there are some troubling signs…