Saturday, 2 May 2020

Checking Your Email is Very Much like Gambling

I don't know about you, but I'd hate to think I was addicted to anything. 

In fact, I could write a list of all the things I'm not addicted: 

Smoking. 
Gambling. 
Alcohol. 

The list could go on forever. Well, at least, I hope it would else I may have a problem or two. I'm sure one addiction would be hard. Two it's getting complicated. Three or more and I'd be drinking scotch at the Betty Ford Clinic while flicking through porn on my phone.

I guess you could be addicted to something!

''Move on, Bozo, I'm not addicted to anything. Not even your amazing articles...''

The problem with addiction is that often we don't even realise we have a problem until it's too late. 

This ''addiction thingamabob'' doesn't even raise its ugly head until someone boxes us into a corner, steals our meds (Betty Ford) or we read an article, like this, and consider, for a moment, and say:

''What the hell, I'm dealing with a full-blown addiction. I'm struggling to stop doing A, B, or C (C doesn't stand for crack cocaine, well not for me, at least). 

I really don't know. What's your ''Pleasure?''

How many times do you check your email? 

I love reading, especially psychology because it is a tool for advantage. The publication Predictably Irrational is written by Dan Ariely (2009). 

Email addiction (as with all social media) does have a psychological principle behind it. In fact, behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner called it ''schedules of reinforcement''. Unsurprisingly, this is all about the relationship between actions and associated rewards. You may have read about the Skinner Box which housed a hungry rat and lever the rodent pressed to get a pellet of food. 

Now here's the reason why you just love to keep checking your email like a hungry rat or a gambler playing the slots. 

Skinner's distinguished between fixed-ratio and variable-ratio schedules of reinforcement. 

Under the fixed-schedule, a rat would receive a pellet of food if pressing the lever a fixed number of times (say 20 lever presses and hey presto he gets some corn). It's like you playing the slots but guaranteed a win every 10 spins. 

The varied schedule sees the rat wondering which press of the lever will deliver his next meal. It could be the first press or the hundredth. It's random, so your guess is as good as mine (or the rats). 

I guess we can all associate with the unpredictable nature of variability. 

But here's the interesting question: ''Which of the two ''fixed-ratio'' or ''varied-ration'' is the most motivating? 

You might think the fixed ratio would be more motivating and rewarding because you can predict the outcome. 

However, the varied ratio is more motivating.  

The true details are appreciated when the motivation stops. With the fixed-ratio reinforcement, the rat stops pressing the lever pretty quickly when the reward isn't forthcoming. 

The problem with the varied-ratio reinforcement is that the rat kept pressing the lever in hope of a reward even if it was an unprecedented number of presses. The rat's thinking: ''I'd normally have some food by now after 100 presses but now I'm on 1000 I'd better continue.''

You may have guessed that rats aren't the only ones to struggle with the varied-ratio reinforcement - humans do too. It's a great way to motivate. 

From a gambling perspective, it's the dark magic that keeps you playing the slots (as it does with the lottery, roulette & even your premium bonds).

How much fun would it be to play a slot machine if it guaranteed a win every ten spins? At first, it seems a good idea but it would soon become boring. The joy of gambling is its unpredictable nature. You may wait for 101 spins but if you hit the jackpot who cares! Basically, it keeps you playing.

But what does this have to do with email?

Even though you may have never thought about it before, checking your email is very much like gambling. 

Most emails are junk. It's like pulling the lever of a one-armed bandit and losing. 

However, every so often you receive a message you really want. It may be a message from a friend, relate to a job, or some random casino offering 100 free spins. We are happy to receive an unexpected email. 

That's why we become addicted to checking, hoping for a surprise. 

We just keep pressing that lever, again and again, until we get our reward. 

So that is the reason you may well have an email addiction.