Above: Dopamine Molecule
Dopamine Defined for the Layman
A single sentence to quickly describe dopamine to the layman is:
Dopamine provides "The Neurochemical Anticipation" that "teases" animals and humans to "grasp and accomplish" whichever task "mother nature" has deemed evolutionarily valuable and necessary for them to complete. The "Intensity and Feeling" of the Dopamine Drive depends upon the amount of dopamine flooding the brain (striatum). The human dopamine experience ranges from extreme hypermotivation and intense libido to mild inspiration, dropping all the way to "mild feelings of well being" and "non-depression".
Most of this work is founded on internationally recognized dopamine expert, Dr.Greg Berns. His book, Satisfaction, and Iconoclast are consulted before designing user interface and social media user experience. Dr. Berns consults for a variety of technology and software companies when he is not developing the code of Neuroethics at Emory University. This potentially world saving project is called NeuroPolicy. It would allow government officials and high level decision makers to consult neurological models before making difficult decisions.
Dopamine is a catecholamine neurotransmitter that occurs in a wide variety of animals, including both vertebrates and invertebrates. In the brain, this phenethylamine functions as a neurotransmitter.
Dopamine has many functions in the brain, including important roles in behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment an reward. It has been hypothesized that dopamine transmits reward prediction error, although this has been questioned. According to this hypothesis, the phasic responses of dopamine neurons are observed when an unexpected reward is presented.
Further, dopamine neurons are depressed when the expected reward is omitted. Thus, dopamine neurons seem to encode the prediction error of rewarding outcomes. In nature, we learn to repeat behaviors that lead to maximize rewards. Dopamine is therefore believed to provide a teaching signal to parts of the brain responsible for acquiring new behavior.
In his groundbreaking book "Satisfaction" Dr. Gregory Berns reveals the intricacies of dopamine and how novelty enhances the production and "secretions."
"The brain seems to punish you for getting what you want (only after it encourages you to acquire it) by withdrawing the intensity of dopamine's 'Anticipation High'. the same neurochemical 'high' that drove you to grasp the object to begin with."
The joke is on you.
The flip side of this is that "anticipation" can be artificially induced (by cognitive re-assessment) and such experience is nearly as enjoyable as getting the object of ones desire.
This pre-emptive 'prior' awareness (insight) into the tricks dopamine plays, is the core of Solalign (also called Epimemetics), an integrative thought system created by Russell Wright.
Another way of viewing dopamine is as "the ultimate proverbial "Carrot on the Stick." Generally you will not want the carrot after you get it, and may even hold the carrot in contempt. The speed and degree to which you no longer desire the object that you have attained (driven by dopamine)depends on the importance of the objects context and place within Maslowe's Hierarchy of Needs. The Hypermotivation with which you pursue any object of need or desire may also depend on your core intrinsic values.
Dopamine and Addiction:
Neuroscientists used to think that Dopamine (DA) was the sole chemical cause of pleasure. Now they know that dopamine handles one particular but very specific part of a larger pleasurable experience.
Dopamine tells the brain when a reward is salient, noticeable and important.
More importantly Dopamine tells the brain when a biological reward is "better than expected."
For example, if you are expecting one gumball from a machine and get two gumballs on accident, your Dopamine (DA) levels
will rise. This is 'evolutions' way of conditioning the brain to 'pay attention' to that 'beter than expected' experience because it might be useful and salient for survival.
If you put another quarter in the machine to get more gumballs, but this time you only get one, excess dopamine is not released in the brain like it was when you unexpectedly got two gumballs.
Here is an important point that most people miss about the "gumball" scenario.
The gumball does not taste any better or worse in either scenario, but the absence of the excess dopamine makes it seem that way because the experience was not "better than expected."
This is all part of the hedonic treadmill and hedonic cascade.
If you were to put another quarter in the gumball machine and this time you got zero gumballs, your midbrain would
produce even less dopamine than before, teaching the brain that the experience was "worse than expected."
Addictive drugs teach the brain that they are much much better than expected, providing the brain with more dopamine than it was ever meant to handle.
In fact crystal meth provides a 1200% increase above normal baseline dopamine, ultimately damaging the dopamine receptor sites in the brain. This is bad.
Listen to Russell Wright provide a brief audio overview on the brain chemical dopamine. (recommended)
Also see Neuromarketing
The world expert on Dopamine is Dr. Greg Berns