PERREAULT Magazine March 2014 - Page 18

We are evolutionarily wired to crave certain pleasures and almost all of the rituals and desires we have as a species are linked to pleasure.

Sex, eating, drinking and socializing are amongst a few.

All these events trigger pathways that cause the release of chemicals in our brains to induce pleasure and in some way, a mild form of addiction. I call them “rituals” because we had to evolve that way in order to ensure the preservation of our species. Can you imagine how scarce the human population would be if having sex was an un-pleasurable event?

Dopamine

One of the responsible parties for our pleasure seeking frenzies is a neurotransmitter called dopamine. A neurotransmitter is a chemical molecule released by brain cells to send signals to other neighboring nerve cells.

Dopamine is synthesized in several regions of the brain and one of its main roles is reward and motivation. Dopamine levels have been shown to increase in every type of reward seeking behavior including stimulants such as cocaine, which acts on your brain by amplifying its release. When our brain is swamped by chemicals such as dopamine, we achieve great vigor, focus and stamina.

This allows us to do the impossible and the unimaginable. Have you ever seen or experienced the power of love for instance? A person in love is willing to travel around the world just to see someone one more time, even if it means to lose their job or travel for months.

Traditionally, dopamine has been theorized to be the cause of feeling pleasure and enjoyment such as sex or a hearty meal. However, there is new evidence now suggesting that dopamine actually causes a seeking behavior to keep you motivated not only to look for sex or tasty food, but to do other things such as exploring new ideas and searching for information to fuel those visions. In essence, the dopamine system is more of a wanting system rather than an enjoying system. The wanting-enjoyment system then enters a vicious cycle inducing an addictive behavior.

the anticipation rush

Pavlovian classical conditioning experiments demonstrated that our brain can respond in anticipation, given certain cues. When you hear a certain noise or a cue that something good is about to happen, like the smell of a home cooked meal, or the “blip” noise from your iphone announcing a new message, your brain activates your dopaminergic system. Dopamine is released when the moment is being anticipated (the wanting phase) before the actual event taking place (the enjoyment phase).

Seeking is often times more powerful than enjoying. Think of the desire to go on vacation, eating an ice cream, or wanting to finish work to go do something else you enjoy. That anticipation is much stronger than the actual act of enjoyment. This all goes back to evolution. Seeking or being alert is probably more important to keep you alive than it is to be in an enjoyable or relaxed state. This ensures our survival.

iCrave:

by Dr. German Garcia-Fresco

Neuroscientist

The Power of

Dopamine

Perreault Magazine / March 2014 18