How Mobile Phones Keep You Hooked

Everyone’s been there: You’ve gone on your phone to check something only to realise twenty minutes later that you’re still engrossed in social media, left pondering, “How does this keep happening?”

While mobile phones offer a multitude of benefits, they also have a real knack for keeping users captivated and, because excessive use can lead to various issues, this can quickly become a genuine problem.

So, how does this keep happening? Let’s explore the tactics that effectively keep you glued to your screen.

Why Are We Hooked To Our Phones?

Whether we admit it or not, we’ve probably all checked our phones a few times in the last hour. But have you ever stopped to wonder why this keeps happening?

Of course, the obvious answer is that phones are accessible, easy to use and entertaining. It’s only natural to reach for them when boredom strikes. However, the underlying reasons are a little more intricate than this simple explanation.

Phones are intricately designed to lure us back, employing various strategies to keep us scrolling. To gauge the effectiveness of these tactics, one need only glance at the statistics.

According to Exploding Topics, as of 2024, 47% of Americans admit they’re addicted to their phones, with the average American checking their smartphone 352 times per day.

And the figures get even more staggering. 71% of the study went on to admit to spending more time on their phone than with their romantic partner, with 44% of American adults confessing to experiencing anxiety if they are without their phones.

While this is an American study, the trends seem to echo globally and may even mirror our personal experiences.

Let’s delve into the specific reasons and strategies that keep us buried in the immersive digital realm of mobile devices.

Why Are Mobile Phones Addictive?


The Dopamine Effect

Think of dopamine as a messenger between your brain and nerve cells, affecting the way you think, feel, and act. Namely, it plays a pivotal role in acting on areas of the brain to make us feel happy and satisfied, and this can be an addictive feeling.

Countless studies have shown that dopamine is released in our brains when we use our mobile phones, making us feel happy. Unfortunately, this is a feeling many of us want to continue enjoying and repeating over and over again, keeping us reaching for our phones to get another burst of this powerful effect.

Forming Habits

Part of human nature is to form habits. Once you’ve performed a specific behaviour a few times, especially one that triggers a release of dopamine, the pattern becomes etched in your habits and your brain begins to crave the reward.

So, you may not even realise you’re reaching for your phone but, soon enough, you find yourself scrolling. It’s become a habit ingrained into our brain and nervous system and this cycle can be hard to break.

Social Connection

These days, a big part of socialising is done over our phones. Whether it is calling, texting, facetiming or using social media, there are an increasing number of ways to communicate remotely using our mobiles.

As a result, we have collectively begun to rely on these devices to maintain our relationships. Moreover, thanks to social media, we are now able to monitor other individuals on our phones – a practice deeply ingrained in humans’ evolutionary past.

So, whether you want to chat with your mum or watch what your friends are doing on social media, mobile phones have become the relied-upon medium for human connection.

Information Overload

Inherent in human nature is an insatiable curiosity, and we like to search and absorb information. Mobile phones supply the perfect place to do this, making the vast expanse of the internet readily available at our fingertips.

Beyond mere web browsing, numerous apps supply an inexhaustible well of information. Social media, in particular, has transcended its original role as a platform for connecting with friends; it now stands as a central source for supplying news and information on various topics.

This inundation often leaves us falling down rabbit holes of information and, before we know it, hours have elapsed while we scroll through this vast expanse.

Strategies That Keep You Hooked On Phones

Regarding tactics that ensnare our attention on mobile devices, this is typically concerning the apps we install.

Within the fiercely competitive landscape of mobile phone applications, particularly in the realm of social media, various strategies are employed by these companies to ensure that users remain engrossed in continuous scrolling.

The Endless Scroll

Everyone who owns a mobile phone is familiar with the endless scroll of social media – it never ends.

Being fed with constant bite-sized information on subjects we enjoy is an entirely purposeful way to ensure we, quite simply, keep scrolling. Motivated by the idea that something entertaining is right around the next corner and the typical human trait of craving satisfaction keeps us locked on this scrolling quest.

Similarly, apps such as dating apps have introduced ‘The Endless Swipe’, in other words, users can continuously swipe through new dating profiles without being booted off by the app. This perfectly exemplifies how apps use pitless digital realms to keep us glued to our screens.

Streak Incentives

Numerous applications, including Snapchat, have implemented streaks as a form of incentive for consistent app usage. Users who engage with the app daily are rewarded with a streak they feel compelled to maintain. Some apps take it a step further by offering tangible rewards for those who faithfully return to the application day after day.

Whether the reward is digital or tangible, incentivising users for consistent mobile phone usage explains why so many remain motivated to persistently engage with our screens.

Notifications and Invitations

Even when you’re not actively using your mobile phone, there are tactics designed to lure you back.

Notifications and invitations can surface with attention-grabbing sounds, compelling you to check your phone. Though there is the option to turn off these notifications or put them on silent, they remain a potent incentive, persistently coaxing you to reach for your device.


Numerous video content apps, including YouTube, employ a strategic feature wherein the next video automatically begins playing once the current one concludes, also known as auto-play.

Again, while this can usually be turned off in settings it, unsurprisingly, serves as a clever tactic to keep users engaging with content on their app, eliminating any hesitations about continuing to browse for more content. In essence, the app assumes control, sparing users the burden of deciding and effectively spoon-feeding them a continuous stream to keep them hooked.