In this CNN article about “Why we can’t unplug on vacation” Professor Brian Uzzi of Northwestern University, Illinois, discusses why it can be difficult to stop checking your email, even when you are on holiday. He suggests this behaviour is linked to the pyschological principle of variable reinforcement schedules (also known as variable-interval reinforcement schedules):
“when animals — or humans — are rewarded randomly for a particular behavior, it’s harder to get them to stop the behavior than if they had been rewarded consistently for the same behavior.”
The possibility that there might be an urgent or interesting message makes you want to check your email. These messages can arrive at random intervals, therefore you may be experiencing a variable reinforcement schedule.