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SCARS™ Psychology of Scams: Screen Time, Sleep Deprivation, and Romance Scams
The Effects of Screen Time on Health
Extract of an article by Dr. Gadi Lissak, Behavioral Medicine Psychologist & Biofeedback Specialist, on the effects of screen time on the health of children, adolescents, and adults.
The variety of devices enabling media consumption is constantly increasing, and there is constant improvement in their technological capabilities. However, one of the constant common characteristics is a display screen.
This allows for a large number of stimuli to be compressed into the user experience, and at an accelerated pace. The growth in the number of websites and social networks has also attracted children and adults to spend more time on a device or computer screen. As a result, there has been a steady increase in screen time for everyone around the world, of an average of about seven hours a day.
Many studies in recent years have found a correlation between prolonged multimedia exposure and health problems among children and adults. While there is significant public awareness about the possible effect of mobile phone radiation, the public is less aware of the other effects of screen time on health which can include harm to the endocrinal, cardiovascular and neurological systems, as well as lead to difficulties with vision and posture. And it can also lead to increased vulnerability to cyber-enabled crime (namely scams).
Effects on the Endocrine System
Studies have found that prolonged exposure to screens – even passive viewing – causes sleep disorders, and thereby affect levels of the melatonin hormone, which regulates sleep and plays an important role in strengthening the immune system, and other processes. Sleep deprivation thus damages the immune system and may be considered an indirect cause creating risk of many illnesses.
Cortisol Hormone and the Effects of Screen Time on Functioning Under Stress
The cortisol hormone helps the body function under stressful situations by increasing blood sugar levels and reducing the response of the immune system. Studies have shown that children and adults using computers/devices at an average of three hours a day possessed lower cortisol levels, which can gradually damage the body’s ability to cope with stressful situations. Studies also found that children and adults who did not use computers/devices at all, or for less than an hour a day, possessed a higher level of cortisol.
This can increase susceptibility to manipulative techniques and prevent recognition of situations that might be a danger.
The insulin hormone plays a vital role in the metabolism and control of energy storage in the body. Dysfunction in the secretion of insulin can damage the body’s ability to absorb glucose to produce energy. In a 2010 study of 496 sixteen-year-olds, those teens who spent over two hours a daily using computers/devices possessed higher insulin levels than those spending less time, and the higher insulin levels put them at greater risk of diabetes, to atherosclerosis, and to metabolic disorder and obesity, both which contribute to the formation of heart disease.
It is believed that this risk increases with age.
The Impact of Screen Time on Obesity and on the Cardio-Vascular System
Studies have found that among children, adolescents, and adults that screen time is linked to obesity due to unhealthy eating habits such as snacking while on chatting online on the phone, on a laptop, watching TV, or viewing TV during dinner time. Like phones, computers, and television, video games may also contribute to obesity since they increase food consumption immediately after a game irrespective of an actual sense of hunger.
Various studies have found that sitting during screen use is linked to an increases in blood pressure, to irregular cholesterol levels, and to the narrowing of the arteries reaching the eyes, a phenomenon known as an indicator of future risk of heart disease. The research has also found that people participating in physical activities possessed wider arteries reaching the eyes, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Other studies found a high correlation between computers/devices time and high blood pressure (systolic and diastolic). In contrast, activities such as reading paper books, drawing, or non-screen activities were not found to effect changes in blood pressure.
Risk of cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension and stroke are created by the existence of extended physical arousal (sympathetic). A 2010 study in Finland examined the effects of exposure to information and communication technology (ICT) on the balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems during sleep. The study found that larger consumption of information and communication technology through multimedia (mobile phones, computer games, web browsing, email, chat rooms) increased physical arousal during sleep, which may harm the quality of sleep.
It is well known that sleep disorders dramatically affects an individual’s logical thinking and cognitive risk avoidance. Thus reduced amounts of sleep make individuals of any age more susceptible to manipulative techniques.
The development of screen media is based on the rapid presentation of material on the screen (“screen novelty”). This phenomenon is most evident in social media content and in TV program content for children and adults, and it is a major factor in media consumption. “Screen novelty” affects dopamine, an important neurotransmitter influencing arousal, attention ability, and response to new stimuli. Dopamine is also considered a key element in the creation and maintenance of addiction.
One study found an increased and faster release of dopamine in young adults (over 18) during video games. Similar results have been observed in adults engaged in social interactions via social media. In light of this finding, there is an increasing concern that intensive computer screen use may cause long-term changes in the brain to the point of addiction to the production of dopamine, essentially simulating a situation of substance dependence.
This is a significant contributor to further susceptibility to high-risk behaviors online
Although interactive computer games and social media are thought to trigger more stimulants than watching TV or a movie, studies found that computer games actually generate limited neurological activity. In 2011 The World Federation of Neurology reported about a Japanese study mapping the brains of humans playing computer games (in other words screen use), and of people solving repetitive and simple math exercises. The people playing computer games presented brain activity in only one the cerebral lobes associated with vision and movement. However, the people performing the math equations presented brain activity in both frontal lobes related to learning, memory, and emotions affecting social behavior. With this in mind, the message from the study is that screen use may delay the development of the frontal lobes and the development of the ability to control social behavior.
In light of this study, the World Federation of Neurology recommends reducing the use of computer screens, and the encouragement (especially) of children to play outside with children and to interact socially with others as much as possible. An additional conclusion that can be deduced is that there is an advantage to reducing the amount of screen time spent by adults as well.
Sitting for hours in front of a screen causes eye fatigue and impairment in visual acuity, focus, ability to concentrate, and may cause headaches and neck and shoulder pain. Symptoms appearing after prolonged periods in front of screens are dryness and myopia. Adapting one’s work environment, wearing glasses, adjusting appropriate lighting, along with scheduled breaks from the computer, will maintain one’s health and enhance one’s ability for comfortable viewing.
Sitting for long hours, especially in front of touch devices, may adversely affect posture, causing neck and shoulder pain, pain in the hands, and lead to the development of early scoliosis. Extensive use of touch devices, keyboards, and mice that are not adjusted properly can cause strain and lead to pain and inflammation in the arms and hands and wrists.
Summary and Conclusions
Today consensus in developed countries exists that there is an increase in risk factors as screen time exceeds two hours per day, and even less for younger ages. Reduction in screen time can lead to significant improvements in health and development.
More importantly, there is an apparent correlation between time spent on-screen use and a range of cognitive faculties. More time spent appears to reduce a person’s ability to make logical decisions and increases high-risk behaviors.
A 2013 position paper of the Association of Dietitians and Nutritionists in Israel recommends limiting screen time and avoiding eating while viewing screens. The paper emphasizes the correlation between screen time and high intake of high-calorie foods and recommends avoiding eating in front of screens since this leads to eating foods of poor nutritional quality such as snacks and sweets. Another negative aspect of sitting in front of screens is their advertisements that encourage consumption of snacks and sweets. The paper made reference to studies showing a correlation between reduced screen time and reduced energy consumption, and thereby lower obesity.
Recommendations for the Safe Use of Media
- Monitor and control the time spent in front of screens
- Raise awareness that viewing habits are a source of emulation and may affect habits; backgrounds of passive media also can influence health
- Develop a comprehensive approach for all types of media at home, including content type and time management
- Reduce as much as possible the use of media devices during meals, an hour before sleep, and during sleep – leave the phone in another room while you sleep
- Establish frequent breaks when using devices
- Suggested daily total viewing time for all screens should be limited to no more than 2 hours when possible, but no more than 2 hours at a time without a 30-minute break between sessions
- Try to stop the use of any Internet-connected device in bedrooms to help prevent sleep disorders
- Be sure to ergonomically structure the computer/device workspace environment (e.g., adjust the height of a chair, table, screen, etc.)
- Create a “device-free” space in your home, such as in the kitchen or at the dinner table – especially bedrooms
Recommendations to Reduce Damage to the Eyes
- Reduce screen brightness
- Take scheduled breaks
- Use proper lighting
- Wear glasses as needed
How Grief Affects Sleep
We know that screen time affects sleep, and frequently after a scam, a victim spends even more time online seeking answers and solutions.
Added to this is difficult to sleep during bereavement anyway. A grieving person may have distressing thoughts about their loved one (in this case a FAKE loved one), such as regrets, worries, anxieties, panic, or sadness about their loss.
The stress from the loss of a loved one (even if not real) can develop into anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In turn, each one of these conditions negatively affects sleep further increasing the difficulty with recovery after a scam.
Even without it becoming something more, a loss is a traumatic experience all its own that creates disruptive physical symptoms for weeks to months at a time. One of the most common symptoms is insomnia.
Though research is not fully conclusive, there exist concerns about the harm of screen use on both the cognitive abilities of individuals and their emotional health. Increased use of social media is increasingly showing increases in depression and other mental disorders. It can also increase impatience and anger.
We have seen how scam victims (especially) change their behaviors once the new only relationship begins to take hold. Scammers know that they can “run” the victims 24 hours day and are available any time. This escalating time online has effects on sleep and cognition, further increasing the effects of the scammer’s manipulation and their hold over the victims.
Additionally, we know that sleep deprivation both increases the effect of the manipulation, and has a profound impact on successful recovery after the scam is discovered.
Since this is like not going to be read by victims during the scam or before, it is important for individuals that are recovering from a romance scam to realize that sleep plays a huge role in their recovery. Obsessive screen time spent looking for answers is actually counterproductive to their recovery.
While excessive sleep can be a sign of other problems, more sleep is generally better for your metal health following a scam than less!
As always, we encourage all scam victims to seek out local counseling as an aid to their recovery.
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