Tech companies use specific techniques to design digital services with ACDPs that are intentionally addictive. This includes exploiting known psychological biases and heuristics, such as using notifications or rewards to trigger feelings of anticipation or excitement, as well as automating the entire user experience by using algorithms to personalize content and create addictive feedback loops.

Exploit Psychological Vulnerabilities

Intelligent system agents, such as newsfeeds on popular social networks, can exploit users’ psychological vulnerabilities and lead to damaging patterns of behavior. The uncertainty of not knowing what items will be presented can foster a temptation to constantly check, leading to continuous use and reward depletion. The unpredictability of the rewards in both cases creates an incentive to keep engaging with the system, even if the user is not enjoying the experience.

For example, an emotional memory bias might increase the attractiveness of the newsfeed in the same way psychological vulnerabilities are targeted in gambling addictions: users do not know in advance the posts that will be displayed, and whether each visualized post may be rewarding or not. Alternatively, recommendations on YouTube might exploit short-term bias, wherein people favor the choice that offers immediate gratification at the expense of long-term goals.

Automate the User Experience

Attention capture damaging patterns can lead to normative dissociation, which is characterized by a temporary disconnection from physical and emotional experiences and a loss of self-awareness and reflection. ACDPs can remove the need for autonomous decision-making, promote “endless” sessions, and automate the user experience to keep users on the platform. While these experiences may sometimes be beneficial for the user, they can also induce absorption in personally meaningless activities with little intrinsic value, leading to negative feelings and adverse consequences on users’ digital well-being.