Dopamine Quickies: The Difference Between Dopamine Appeal and Dopamine Repel

by Charles Lyell on December 19, 2012

“A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason.” — Thomas Carlyle

Our ancestors were clever primitives. Like chimpanzees, they owed their survival to a sophisticated, yet simplistic, dopaminergic system. So sophisticated scientists are baffled by the intricacies. So simplistic it reduces all decisions, all choices, all behaviors down to whether they turn dopamine flow on or off.

This basic “stop and go” system continues to work with dumb animals by encouraging healthy while discouraging unhealthy behaviors. When the system malfunctions, by encouraging unhealthy or discouraging healthy behaviors, it still works by ensuring that the animals don’t survive long enough to reproduce.

The same system, that causes some wild animals to remove faulty DNA from the gene pool, is backfiring with potentially sapient animals whose ancestors figured out how to (temporarily) beat the system. First by indulging in unhealthy behaviors for the sole purpose of triggering gratuitous dopamine. Then by surviving long enough to bequeath flawed DNA and unhealthy habits to offspring.

Junk food, reality TV stars, rabid talk-show hosts, pornography, guns, esteem inflating deceptions, status symbols, money, religion, nicotine, cocaine, caffeine, heroin, and believing human behavior is inexplicably complex are popular with most humans for the same reason — they all include positive expectations of turning on the dopamine = dopamine appealing = yes, yes, yes.

Mosquitoes, worms, snakes, pain, abuse, bullying, and threats to safety, acceptance, status, or finances are unpopular because they provoke unpleasant expectations that turn off the dopamine = dopamine repellent = no, no, no.

If understanding how dopamine manipulates behavior was one millionth as dopamine appealing as Kim Kardashian’s antics this would be common knowledge. The way things stand, understanding how powerful dopamine is has zero dopamine appeal. In fact, it’s downright dopamine repellent.

Does all this mean the challenge is to come up with ways to add dopamine appeal to information that’s dopamine repellent?


Does it mean it’s time to accept the possibility the dopaminergic system is working. Which explains why Homo sapiens are lost in a dopamine-induced ignorance keeping everyone from noticing how we’re in the process of purging our species’ flawed DNA?



3 Responses to “Dopamine Quickies: The Difference Between Dopamine Appeal and Dopamine Repel”

  1. You may be onto something here.

    This one is especially powerful: “[We indulge] in unhealthy behaviors for the sole purpose of triggering gratuitous dopamine”

    I wouldn’t be as quick as you to say that these views are dopamine repellent information though. I don’t think the reason why they aren’t more discussed is because they threaten scientists, maybe they just haven’t been looked at in the scientific community yet.

    Could you give some specific reasons why scientists would be reluctant to work on this, or in other words, why it would repel their dopamine flow?

    Another question: how to increase our dopamine levels linked to things we want to do, and, conversely, how to decrease them for things we don’t want to do anymore?

    Posted by Florent Berthet | June 16, 2013, 3:58 am

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