The New York Times Discovers Dopamine

by Charles Lyell on June 11, 2013

“The idea that reward is partly related to anticipation (or the prediction of a desired outcome) has a long history in neuroscience. Making good predictions about the outcome of one’s actions would seem to be essential in the context of survival, after all. And dopamine neurons, both in humans and other animals, play a role in recording which of our predictions turn out to be correct.”
The New York Times

It’s only a question of time until The New York Times starts reporting on the links between dopamine and the widespread (but unacknowledged) addictions to safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and esteem/status. Until then, Times readers will have to settle for puff pieces about the powerful neurotransmitter, such as the June 7th article about dopamine, music and pleasure.

The Times’ preference for fluff over substance helps explain how a layman beat a prestigious newspaper (and the international scientific community) to one of this century’s biggest scoops.

As explained many times on this site, everything everyone does involves maintaining dopamine flow. As a result, all choices come down to dopamine appeal and dopamine repel. People, substances, experiences, beliefs, and information that trigger dopamine flow are dopamine appealing = popular. People, substances, experiences, beliefs, and information that threaten dopamine flow are dopamine repellent = unpopular.

For example, for weeks, the most retweeted dopamine factoid on Twitter was about a study that linked the taste of beer and dopamine release.

The easy to swallow connections between dopamine and music, text messages, and the taste of beer have serious dopamine appeal because they help people understand benign behaviors. Dopamine appealing information is seldom questioned and frequently shared.

Meanwhile, reading that it’s possible to get addicted to Abraham Maslow’s deficiency needs for safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and/or esteem/status is dopamine repellent because the information threatens dopamine flow by threatening safety and esteem (and approval for anyone who makes the mistake of passing it on). Dopamine repellent information is not only more likely to be questioned and less likely to be shared, it’s often ignored, attacked, avoided, and/or summarily dismissed.

The dopamine repellent phenomenon is explained in a study titled Dopamine in motivational control: rewarding, aversive, and alerting.

As the study notes, “Midbrain dopamine neurons are well known for their strong responses to rewards and their critical role in positive motivation. It has become increasingly clear, however, that dopamine neurons also transmit signals related to salient but non-rewarding experiences such as aversive and alerting events.”

In other words, the same dopamine that makes people receptive to learning why they enjoy music, “good morning” messages, and beer is capable of transforming credulous readers into dubious skeptics who trigger dopamine by convincing themselves they question everything — while conveniently ignoring their suspicious indifference, aversion, or hostility to information that includes even the slightest anticipation of a threat to their safety, peer approval, esteem, and dopamine flow.

BTW, when The New York Times, Discovery Channel, and PBS start covering what I’ve been writing about all these years, you’ll be able to score esteem boosting dopamine hits by telling all your friends you read it here first.



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