Marketing strategies aside, the appeal of ultra-processed foods is typically said to rest on a trio of seemingly benign attributes: They are inexpensive, easy to prepare and delicious. But Dr. van Tulleken sees the appeal deriving from something more insidious. With the aid of various additives and sophisticated chemical modifications, these foods have been manufactured to become addictive. He points to the speed of the reward (akin to the “hit” of snorted cocaine) and to the manipulation of brain signals. “By speedballing different tastes and sensations,” he writes, these foods “can force far more calories into us than we could otherwise handle, creating enormous neurological rewards that keep us coming back for more.” It’s not that people utterly lack agency, of course—the problem for many is less coercion than seduction. Ultra-processed foods surround us—they are prevalent in every drug store and grocery store and are the foundation of every fast-food outlet. As such, resisting them requires a greater degree of willpower than many of us routinely possess.
It’s amazing how a metaphorical cliché appropriate for rock music lyrics becomes profound when Dr. White Coat, Ph.D. uses it. “Such-and-such affects your brain like cocaine” is the “It was a dark and stormy night” of pop neuroscience writing. We need a Bulwer-Lytton category expansion to include nonfiction clickbait.
Oreos can be as addictive to the brain as cocaine, the authors of a scientific study have claimed.
Well, yeah, if you’re stupid enough to snort or inject them, duh. Stick to smoking them and you won’t get hooked.
I’m sorry, you’re right, the horrible results of cookie addiction are no laughing matter.
America, I’m here today because I love and care about you. This is why, after the latest episode, I want to urge you to seek treatment for your addiction to moronic pop-science stories about how everything from chocolate to the Internet, make-up sex and fatty foods is “like cocaine”. There are only so many facile comparisons your brain can handle, and I don’t want to find you dead of an overdose.
Questions about the Internet’s deleterious effects on the mind are at least as old as hyperlinks. But even among Web skeptics, the idea that a new technology might influence how we think and feel—let alone contribute to a great American crack-up—was considered silly and naive, like waving a cane at electric light or blaming the television for kids these days. Instead, the Internet was seen as just another medium, a delivery system, not a diabolical machine. It made people happier and more productive. And where was the proof otherwise?
Now, however, the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
…Does the Internet make us crazy? Not the technology itself or the content, no. But a Newsweek review of findings from more than a dozen countries finds the answers pointing in a similar direction. Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that “the computer is like electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages—and even promotes—insanity.”
Strident fearmongering, brain scans, dopamine, Nicholas Carr; this article is your one-stop shop for all your Zombie Internet Eatin Mah Brainz! needs. And yes, we can now file computers alongside fatty foods, make-up sex, and sugar in the list of Things That Affect Your Brain Like Cocaine. Maybe, given a little more time and some more fMRI analysis, the Internet can even graduate to being the new heroin.