Does It Matter If Politicians, Like Baboons, Are Literally Addicted to Power?

by Charles Lyell on July 21, 2013

“Submissiveness and dominance have their effects on the same reward circuits of the brain as power and cocaine. Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly.” – Ian Robertson

The above excerpt is from an article, written by Dr. Ian Robertson, that appeared on www.telegraph.co.uk on 4/26/12. The article, Like baboons, our elected leaders are literally addicted to power, explained dopamine’s involvement in the media scandals that continue to rock the UK. In a nutshell, the Murdochs control politicians the same way drug lords manipulate the flunkies in their employ — by controlling their dopamine flow.

Dr. Robertson wrote:

Power changes the brain triggering increased testosterone in both men and women. Testosterone and one of its by-products called 3-androstanediol, are addictive, largely because they increase dopamine in a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. Cocaine has its effects through this system also, and by hijacking our brain’s reward system, it can give short-term extreme pleasure but leads to long-term addiction, with all that that entails.

What’s more, power also makes people smarter, because dopamine improves the functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. Conversely, demotion in a hierarchy decreases dopamine levels, increases stress and reduces cognitive function.

But too much power – and hence too much dopamine – can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors of judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.

On 7/2/13 I contacted Dr. Robertson to inquire about the feedback to his excellent article. 

He replied, “I got quite a lot of responses, mainly positive.”

Had Roberston written about the root cause of brain cancers, a media frenzy would have sent researchers tripping over one another to verify, discredit, and/or cash in on the research. Instead, he exposed a brain disease that’s more common and destructive than cancer, and all he got were “quite a lot of responses.”

Why the tepid reception to an article based on ground-breaking research? It wasn’t because it doesn’t matter if influential politicians are hopelessly addicted to the same brain chemical cocaine addicts trigger with an illegal drug. And it wasn’t due to a lack of interest in dopamine. There’s no shortage of popular studies and articles linking the powerful neurotransmitter to seemingly benign dopamine triggers, such as brownies, the smell of beer, good-morning tweets, music, tanning, etc.

Dr. Robertson’s article was essentially ignored because everything comes down to dopamine appeal and repel — and his conclusions are dopamine repellent.

It doesn’t take a degree in neurobiology to (unconsciously) grasp how understanding what makes politicians tick comes with the threat of understanding what makes everyone tick. Admitting to addictions = major threat to safety, approval, esteem, and dopamine flow = maximum dopamine repel = guaranteed unpopular. 

What makes Dr. Robertson’s article particularly significant is that he is among the first to go public with research that links dopamine to Maslow’s second deficiency need for safety/power.

While his pronouncements brought a huge, initial, dopamine-induced smile to my face, the lack of interest turned out to be more than a little discouraging. I can understand why researchers find it so easy to ignore my scientific claims. Especially since I’m a layman who isn’t in a position to prove that it’s possible to get addicted to not only safety/power, but also acceptance/approval/attention and especially esteem/status. What’s discouraging is being reminded that the dopamine-induced ignorance I’ve been challenging for years extends to an accomplished scientists armed with valid research.

Oh well! For the time being, I’m offering the above as one more proof of how powerful dopamine appeal/repel are and how prevalent dopamine-induced ignorance is. And one more reminder that ALL HUMAN BEHAVIOR CAN BE EXPLAINED IN TERMS OF PROTECTING AND TRIGGERING DOPAMINE FLOW.

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