How Dopamine Games Keep Neuroscientists From Learning About Dopamine

by Charles Lyell on April 18, 2012

“We hope to find more pieces of the puzzle which will shed light on the connection between this upright, walking ape, our early ancestor, and modern man.”
– Richard Leakey

As mentioned in a previous post, dopamine games aren’t “mind games,” they’re “mindless games” that provide the self-deceptions and denials required to play them.

In other words, dopamine games aren’t only played to fool other people, most dopamine games are played by people who don’t want to know that they’re fooling themselves. Dopamine games are so effective that they make it possible for everyone, including neuroscientists, to avoid learning about how dopamine is keeping them from learning about how dopamine works.

My attempts to raise dopamine awareness have taught me that people instinctively start playing dopamine games as soon as the topic turns to how dopamine manipulates behavior. The difference is that clever people play clever games and dull people play dull games.

Why? Because, to varying degrees, we’re all dopamine addicts and the last thing addicts want to do is think about anything that threatens to get in the way of feeding dopamine-induced cravings. It doesn’t matter if the cravings are fed with dopamine-triggering drugs, food, sex, gambling, money, religion, safety/power, acceptance/peer approval/attention, or esteem/status — addicts simply do not want to know anything that threatens their dopamine flow. For example, just as junkies can be counted on to be totally turned on by dopamine-induced expectations of scoring heroin and completely turned off by dopamine-depleting expectations associated with learning about the dangers of addiction, esteem addicts can be counted on to be totally turned on by esteem elevating / dopamine-triggering deceptions and completely turned off by esteem deflating / dopamine-depleting facts. Same dopamine = same behavior.

The following games are only a few ways people avoid learning about how dopamine works:

Look How Much I Already Know About Dopamine

LHMIAKAD is an especially interesting dopamine game because players use their ability to parrot information (they don’t necessarily understand) to avoid learning what they don’t want to understand (i.e. why, how, and that dopamine is doing their thinking for them). As a bonus, LHMIAKAD players score easy dopamine hits by swallowing the esteem elevating delusions that they are genuinely interested in understanding how dopamine works.

Variations of LHMIAKAD include: I’ve Heard It All Before, I’m Much Smarter Than You, and Let’s Talk About My Favorite Topic, Me.

That’s Interesting

That’s Interesting is even more interesting than LHMIAKAD because it provides artful players with a strategy to avoid learning about an “interesting” neurotransmitter by slyly segueing to another topic.

If significant research linked specific irrational behaviors to a serous cancer, millions would be frantically learning what the symptoms were. But when it comes to understanding how a common brain disease (i.e. unacknowledged dopamine-induced addictions) is responsible for every man-made crisis, it only takes two words, That’s Interesting, to avoid a threatening topic.

I’m Tired of Hearing About Dopamine!

ITHAD! is more popular than LHMIAKADbecause it doesn’t require any knowledge of the process that keeps game players playing dopamine games. The payoff for ITHAD! players is that they get to ignore their suspicious disinterest in learning about a brain chemical that’s doing their thinking for them and, in many cases, ruining their lives.

Players who add a touch of the dopamine game Arrogance score extra easy dopamine hits triggered by the esteem elevating deception that their being annoyed (i.e. momentarily dopamine deprived) is more important than learning about a debilitating brain chemical.

As with most defensive dopamine games, the purpose of ITHAD! is to block further discussions by setting up the implied threat of advancing to a more offensive dopamine game, such as How Dare You Insult Me!

How Dare You Insult Me!

HDYIM! is an all-out “change the focus” game played by desperate individuals who are unable to defend their deceptions. The goal is to create a diversion (i.e. how offended the HDYIM! player is) that makes the threatening information somehow irrelevant. For example, the racists on Fox News play HDYIM!whenever they’re confronted with clips that expose their overtly racist behavior.


Nitpicking is an extremely popular dopamine game that allows players to bypass threatening information by employing ruses, generalizations, rationalizations, questions, and/or clever quibbling over details. Nitpickers, as Nitpicking players are called, can be extremely resourceful when it comes to coming up with irrelevancies to avoid learning about dopamine.

Variations of Nitpicking include: This Is Too Simplistic and I Don’t Believe What You’re Saying Because I Don’t Like the Way You Said It.

This Is Too Complicated

This Is Too Complicated is a simplistic “dismissive” dopamine game favored by intellectually challenged individuals who instinctively dislike thinking (especially about dopamine) because they experience the resulting dopamine deprivation as pain.

TITC protects players’ esteem and guards against additional dopamine deprivation by helping them pretend their cerebral limitations aren’t at fault. Instead, by simply dismissing what they can’t (or don’t want to) understand they get to convince themselves that they’re smart enough to understand that the fault lies with the information’s complexity.

Variations of TITC include: This Is Too Depressing, That’s Ridiculous!, The Information Isn’t Convincing, You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, and BORING!

Why Does It Matter?

WDIM? is a classic dopamine game played by clever types who have stumbled onto a strategy that rewards confident ignorance with gratuitous dopamine hits. Ironically, the same WDIM! players who would question anyone who asks, for example, “Why does it matter if my tests show that I have cancer?” have no qualms about asking, in effect, “Why does it matter if a brain chemical is keeping me from wanting to know that I’m suffering from a brain disease?”

Like all dopamine game players WDIM! aficionados can’t help themselves. Faced with threatening, dopamine depleting information, their only choice is to grasp for an unquestioned question that earns them an undeserved “I won that one!” esteem elevating dopamine quickie.

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