Do Humans Seek and Create Meaning (Part 4)?
November 11, 2016 – 4:29 pm | No Comment

Article #918
It is through our perception and connection with all life that we can experience meaning and have a fulfilling life.

Read the full story »
Confidence Building

Articles to help you learn to build and keep genuine self confidence.


Articles that will help you motivate yourself and others.

Getting Organized

Articles that will help to organize and bring order to our chaotic lives.

Boosting Creativity

Articles and tips that will help you boost and improve your personal creativity.


Articles to help inspire you each and everyday.

Home » Boosting Creativity, Confidence Building, Featured, Headline, Inspirational, Motivation, Problem Solving

Things that make me go mmmm…

Submitted by on May 7, 2011 – 11:09 pmNo Comment

By John Cane

“Addiction” is a heavy word to throw around when labeling a given behavior.  Sometimes people have a tendency to buy into the limitations of the label instead of reaping the benefits of their innate potential to change through insight and understanding.  We can find all kinds of ways to make ourselves happy.  The word ‘addiction’ can keep us from understanding our ability to be free.  We do not need to be limited to one, two, three, or any limited pleasure-seeking experiences to be happy.  This article may clear up some misconceptions about where “happiness” and “fulfillment” really come from and may allow you to see as Anaïs Nin put it, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays important roles in a variety of behaviors. The major behaviors dopamine affects are movement, cognition, pleasure, and motivation. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling the exchange of information from one brain area to another. However, it is the role that dopamine plays in pleasure and motivation that attracts the most neurobiologists attention as well as mine.

In certain areas of the brain when dopamine is released it gives one the feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. These feelings of satisfaction become desired, and the person will grow a desire for the satisfaction.  Let me say that again, a desire for the satisfaction. To satisfy that desire the person will repeat behaviors that cause the release of dopamine.

Naturally speaking, food and sex release dopamine. That is why people want food even though their body does not need it and why people sometimes need sex—it’s the satisfaction of the desire we are seeking. These two behaviors scientifically make sense since the body needs food to survive, and humans need to have sex to allow the race to survive.

However, other, less natural behaviors have the same effect on one’s dopamine levels, and at times can even be more powerful. Often these behaviors can result in addiction due their effect on dopamine, and that addiction can have negative effects on a person’s well-being.

Why is this topic significant when it comes to understanding addiction?  If you grow to like something or someone…with intensity behind it, you may start feeling as though it’s “love” when it may not be.  It may be the reward of released dopamine you are seeking.  Let’s face it, ‘desire’ feels good.  What has been found in studies on dopamine is that it’s not the substance or situation that we are necessarily pursuing for the sake of satisfaction of a means to a reasonable, justifiable end, but the feeling we get (desire) before we obtain the objective at hand.  Or maybe it’s as Nietzsche once said, “In the end one loves one’s desire and not what is desired.”

So why would one person versus another be more addicted to the idea of seeking pleasure and satisfaction, why would one need more of this reward more often?

Well in the case for cocaine, which is severe in terms of addiction, cocaine chemically inhibits the natural dopamine cycle. Under normal circumstances, after dopamine is released, it is recycled back into a dopamine transmitting neuron. However, cocaine binds to the dopamine, and does not allow it to be recycled. Thus there is a buildup of dopamine, and it floods certain neural areas (the rush). The flood ends after about 30 minutes, and the person is left yearning to feel as he or she once did. That is how the addiction begins. Progressively a tolerance builds up due to the fact that the person is constantly trying to repeat the feeling that he or she had the first time. However, the person cannot, because dopamine is also released when something pleasurable yet unexpected occurs.

Several studies have been conducted which targeted neural response to rewards. The results were unanimous in the fact that when one performed an action over and over again, and was given a reward randomly, dopamine levels raised—yahoo, right?  Yes if it is not taken too far.
This brings up a very interesting topic of discussion. How do some people have lower dopamine levels than others? Is it genetic, environment related, something else, or a combination of factors? One study concluded that pathological gamblers most often experienced traumatizing experiences when they were younger. Because most people who become addicted to gambling have low dopamine levels, and also that same group usually has endured a traumatic experience, we have support for the observation that overall dopamine levels can change due to environmental factors.

This then supports the observation that both the mind and brain can change to environmental factors. However, another study has observed that a gene related to dopamine is found twice as often in pathological gamblers than non-gamblers. This supports the observation that dopamine levels are genetic. Therefore, there are two plausible observations that can be made. Either both genetics and environmental factors effect ones brain anatomy and mind simultaneously, or that environmental factors can affect genes which in turn affect ones brain and mind.  This makes sense in the case of ulcers.  Environmental factors can cause stress. Periods of high stress can suppress the immune system leading to ulcers.  While stress alone may not be enough to be one of the stomach ulcer causes, it may be contributory.

Because the observations in the studies show such a strong correlation between pathological gambling, traumatic experiences, and genetic influence, it is the later which seems to be the least wrong observation.

Another question—why is risk and reward a trigger for the release of dopamine? As stated earlier, it is scientifically logical that sex and food release dopamine, because they are essential for sustained life. Risk and reward are not, are they? Could it be that everything in nature happens for a reason? Maybe there is a scientific explanation for the increase of dopamine levels in result of risk and reward.

I think it’s fair to say that the human race is different than other species.  The human race separates itself on this planet by not only in its ability to reason, but in its ability to create, innovate, improve things and be original in the process.  Maybe nature wants humans to create and innovate, and in order to do this a person has to feel satisfaction when one accomplishes an innovation.

The core of our very essence is of creation—the beginning of the Universe is in all of us.  That’s quite a miracle living in all things from some 15 billion years ago.  No wonder we are the way we are—creative beings.  To accomplish an innovation one has to take risks. It is risky to try to do something that no other being on earth has ever accomplished. Therefore, there must be a reward other than material that one gets when he or she accomplishes the innovation, the creative task, the challenge, or that person would not take the risk.

The reward is the release of dopamine and the feeling of satisfaction. The problem with this process is that not only can one be satisfied after a major risk and accomplishment, but one can also be satisfied through constant minute risks and accomplishments. Gambling is an example of this.

These feelings of satisfaction that dopamine exhibits are so strong that one can often lose one’s ability to reason in order to achieve satisfaction.  Sound familiar?  It’s called addiction.

For an exercise, take a moment and think of your favorite food.  Picture it in your mind; imagine what it smells like, the texture, the taste, and holding it in your mouth appreciating every bit of it on your taste buds. Did you feel a sense of…well there was a song that went…”Things that make me go mmmm”.  That’s that wonderful dopamine being released—the anticipation of reward, not the reward itself because your imagination created the feelings.  Imagination, what an awesome gift of creation.

Once we establish this pathway or pattern of thinking, it is then the unconscious that takes over and begins to make certain decisions. The brain develops neural circuits that unconsciously assess and create an opinion about “reward”. Because the dopamine plays an active role in these circuits, a person will act in what they think is in their best interest, when in fact the only interest it satisfies is the release of dopamine.

Gambling is a good example of this where one insists on gambling even though they know the odds are against them. Probability and reason no longer are the most important factors in decision-making. The unconscious need for the release of dopamine becomes most important. This supports the observation that the unconscious plays a vital role in decision making.  The unconscious not only selects the experiences you choose but also how you experience the experiences you choose.  That’s not to say it is impossible to live in the moment—you can.  Babies do it all the time.  But that’s another article  ;-).

A long time ago there was a song written called, ‘Addicted to Love’.  Studies have been done on love by looking at people’s brains using magnetic resonance imaging machines. A recent study also looked at 15 subjects who were deeply in love but were nursing broken hearts. While in the scanner, they viewed “neutral” pictures of someone they knew but for whom they didn’t have intense romantic feelings. Then they were shown a picture of their dearly loved.

Compared with the neutral photos, a lover’s picture triggers the dopamine system in the brain.  Remember this is the same system associated with pleasure and addiction. But the brain images of those scorned in love also give us clues as to why the breakdown of a relationship can trigger serious health problems. The subjects dealing with failed relationships showed activity in the dopamine system. This suggests they maintained intense feelings for their loved one. Here’s the kicker—they also showed activity in brain regions associated with risk taking, controlling anger and obsessive compulsive problems. Notably, the scans showed activity in one part of the brain linked with physical pain.

From this article on dopamine and addiction you may make some fairly general observations about the brain. It is observed that a chemical (cocaine), a behavior (gambling) and a relationship (love) can have the same effect on the brain. Furthermore, it is observed that both genes and environmental factors affect the brain, and that most likely the environmental factors affect genes, which affect the brain.

Also, observation supports that dopamine makes humans take risks so that they may achieve greater innovations. The central meaning of innovation relates to renewal or improvement, with novelty, newness or freshness being a consequence of this improvement. For an improvement to take place it is necessary for people to change the way they make decisions, or make choices outside of their norm.

Schumpeter c.s. (~1930) states “Innovation changes the values onto which the system is based”. When people change their value system, the old (economic) system will change to make room for the better one.  Freud used the term “economies of the mind” which related to our inner balance. When that happens innovation has occurred. Innovation can be seen as something that does, not something that is.

The unconscious is constantly making important decisions. It is amazing how one specific topic can generate so many general observations about how the brain, mind, and nature function.  Maybe if we uniquely focused on our inner talents and placed importance on the power to create great things from the center of the Universe, which lives in all things, we may experience healthier rewards.

About the Author

John Cane is a motivational speaker and writer who develops and implements confidence and self-esteem workshops in North Carolina, South Carolina, and New York. With a background in Psychology, John has six certifications in Personal Growth and Development.  His Journal Books, ‘Important Things I Remember from My Parents’ are used in schools and as an aid for adults in gaining strength in self identity in the United States and Europe.

(Leave us a suggestion for articles you would like to see.  We will do our best to suit your needs!)

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.

Leave us a suggestion for articles you would like to see. We will do our best to suit your needs! Did this information help? I hope so. Change can be difficult sometimes. Like I always say in my workshops, It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it because you’re worth it! Donations fund Self Esteem Workshops for teens, supply books to schools for the continual support of character education across America, and are tax deductable. Thank you from Self Help Guides!