Dopamine 101: A Tale of Two Kitties

by Charlize Roselli on July 7, 2011

I have two wonderful cats that add tons of dopamine to my life. On top of keeping my dopamine flowing on a regular basis, Franky and Johnny deliver daily reminders about how dopamine works and how powerful dopamine is. Usually, the kitties saunter from favorite spot to favorite spot where they relax and catnap for long, leisurely spells. When they’re in the mood, they’ll let us know they want stroking until they get tired of being stroked. But every morning they turn into cat-zombies who only care about one thing — the chance to devour less than an ounce of canned cat food.

That’s all it takes to turn two lovable pets into demanding monsters.

Franky and Johnny’s transformation begins around 5:30 AM, when the dopamine manufacturing centers in their furry little heads kick in. They have a large bowl of dry food, but there’s something about knowing they’ll be scoring a dollop of canned food that sends them both into emotional tailspins. Under dopamine’s spell, my easy-going kitties turn into wildcats  who slip into my bedroom each morning and take their positions. Franky usually jumps onto the dresser where, crouched like a sphinx, he glares at me intently. Johnny prefers the edge of the bed so he can be the first one out the door and into the kitchen when the feeding ritual begins.

I’m usually up before 6, but if I don’t stir by 6:05 the cats start making ghoulish sounds. Sometimes they get into noisy fights and chase one another around the bedroom. Sometimes Franky knocks things over while Johnny paces from side to side of the bed, stepping on me with each pass.

The second I rise they head for the door. By the time I reach the kitchen, they’re growling and meowing incessantly, and the haranguing doesn’t stop until two plates of food are placed in front of them.

Their morning custom leaves me pondering over how the same brain chemical manipulating my normally cuddly pets turns me into a dopamine zombie dozens of times every day. Dopamine-induced thoughts about that first cup of coffee provide the motivation for me to get out of bed before the cats start getting fidgety. Dopamine is why I get so upset when anyone cuts me off when I’m driving, why I’ve never met a piece of chocolate I didn’t like, why my resolutions to diet fly out the window the second a menu is placed in my hands, and even why it took me so long to learn about how dopamine destroys free will.

Sometimes I wonder if the biggest difference between me and my cats is that they aren’t slaves to the dopamine-induced esteem needs that keep me from wanting to know how little free will, if any, I actually have, and how much of a dopamine puppet I really am.

What do you think?

If the same dopamine manipulating animals is manipulating us, does that imply that we’re dopamine puppets?

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Discussion

One Response to “Dopamine 101: A Tale of Two Kitties”

  1. Or does it imply that we\’re animals?

    Posted by Mike Lewis | July 13, 2011, 11:49 pm

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