Dopamine, the chemical that gives us pleasure whenever we receive a reward.
Dopamine is our main focus neurotransmitter. This is the chemical responsible for our drive or desire to acquire – be that food, sex, an achievement, or a drug. When you drink coffee or receive a text message, dopamine is being released. It tends to make people more talkative and excitable, which often leaves them wanting more. With dopamine and high dopamine individuals, desire begets desire.
Memories of past pleasures we experienced are alluring because the dopamine in our brains keeps the memory very real. All we need is a reminder of that past reward. Even without the promise of new, similar experiences, the image in the mind is enough to render self-control ineffective, if altogether useless. According to new research from Johns Hopkins University, none of this really matters, because the memory of something much sweeter always lingers in the brain.
This fine fellow below obviously has brains, though no “brain chemistry” left in him. Curiously, this image is used as an illustration to nearly every article on the subject. God knows why, perhaps because he looks rather impressive. I simply couldn’t resist a temptation to use it, too.
Now back to dopamine and addictions. Study makes an unsettling conclusion: the more we deprive ourselves of the subject of our craving, the more likely our nervous system is to fire off memories whenever an irritant manifests itself. Аddiction cycles are notoriously hard to break precisely because of these lingering memories of “cheeseburgers past.”
How the Johns Hopkins people arrived to their conclusions? They played a little computer game with 20 participants. The game involved a small financial reward every time the respondent located a red or green object on a screen filled with a myriad of other colored objects. Spot a red object — get $1.50, spot green one — get only 25 cents.
The respondents then slept on it, and were asked to play another game the following day. But this time, they were asked to locate particular shapes – color and size did not matter. There was also no reward involved. Interestingly, participants zeroed in on the red objects before any other.While they took part in the exercise, the researchers conducted PET scans on the participants and found that the part of the brain associated with attention lit up with dopamine. Additionally, those who focused on the red objects more than others experienced higher levels of dopamine release. Apparently, past reward association still causing a dopamine release. That stimulus is incorporated into the reward system.
Interesting that people prone to addictive behavior and those who are depressed, will show entirely different responses. The first group (those with addictive personalities) generally can’t help but feel more exhilarated, while the people prone to depression tend to pay much less attention to rewards.
Well, then, where do we stand, those of us depressives and others, prone to displaying addictive behavior? My own personality tends toward being addictive. In view of the recent studies, it makes me terribly depressed.