Components of Personal Development
The Origins of Pleasure
Everyone of us wants to have pleasures in his/her life. A life full of pleasures is a wish because we instinctively know that this is an aspect of a life full of happiness. You very well know about the forbidden pleasures which society wouldn’t accept but we still feel the strong tendency to taste them. Eve with the forbidden apple anyone? Or other times we rationally disagree with a decision but we follow the pleasure’s high drive in order to achieve a gratification. As a matter of fact I was really interested to find out about the mechanisms behind this indulgence. In the below words you will understand how specifically our minds create us the feelings, not only to behave somehow, as well, to repeat this behavior in the future.
Components of Personal Development
First of all has to be stated that when we talk about pleasure we are studying the mechanisms of not so much the reward itself but the anticipation of an expected reward. This effect in our brains leads us to a behaviour in order to achieve this reward. Pleasure describes the broad class of mental states that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. It includes more specific mental states such as happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria. Many pleasurable experiences are associated with satisfying basic biological drives, such as eating, exercise, sex or defecation. At the same time it focuses our attention and works as a positive feedback loop that drives us to do the pleasurable behavior again.
History in brief
In 1930’s and 1940’s scientists were trying to discover a pleasure area in the brain by damaging specific brain regions on animals and by observing how the behavior changed. In 1954 James Olds and Peter Milner in their historical study “Positive Reinforcement Produced by Electrical Stimulation of Septal Area and Other Regions of Rat Brain” implanted electrodes into the septal area of a rat and found that the rat chose to press a lever which stimulated it. They continued pressing it even over stopping to eat or drink. This suggested that the area is the “pleasure center” of the brain and is involved in reinforcement learning. Afterwards, with the use of modern technology scientists scanned people’s brains when another human was stimulating them sexually or when they were watching porn. Neuroscience had expanded our understanding about how exactly the pleasure centre works.
Dopamine and the Reward Circuit
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter whose release creates the feelings of pleasure that as we said fuels our behavior towards the reward. The whole story takes place in the limbic system or else mammalian brain. So when an external stimulus arrives, in the case it is expected to provide us with pleasure, the Ventral Tegmental Area of the brain creates a dopaminergic projection in the Nucleus Accumbens. The latter releases the dopamine to the rest of the pleasure region and completes this reward circuit. An important aspect is that a depletion of dopamine in this region decreases libido receptivity which means loss of sexual interest that results in clinical depression. This is one of the defining symptoms of depression.
However, look how dopamine works. You take a guy and you show him a picture. If he finds the other person attractive, he won’t have the dopaminergic effect unless the other person is looking at him in the eyes. Exactly the same was happening with women. The depressing thing was that if he found the other person unattractive, the dopaminergic effect would start taking place when s/he stopped looking at the picture!
Let’s now describe the effects of the anticipation of pleasure. When we are in the case that the reward will for sure be achieved, we have a rise in dopamine, as we said, or else there is no behavior. This is when you are just going to enjoy something and everything is fine. However, we have to pay attention in which condition the dopamine effect is the greatest; it’s when the reward is fifty-fifty to be achieved. When you are in the situation feeling that there are chances to happen but at the same time you can no way be certain about the outcome. This is when you have a massive boost of anticipation and thus a vast internal need to gain the reward. The word maybe in the “equation” reinforces the behavior far more. Moreover, in the same study the researchers measured the dopamine effect through different possibilities of success. What was found was that the effect of two stimulus was the same when the distance from 50% was the same between them. For example, when the chances of achievement of reward were either 25% or 75%. However, the weakest effect is always when the outcome is 100% sure.
By the latter one you can observe many of the ways social engineers and marketers drive the masses towards the consumption of specific products. Casinos are a whole industry based on the boost of dopaminergic effect through unsure anticipation. This is called Intermittent Reinforcement. Same with several marketing contests. Or with places that hurricanes take place often. Even though the disasters are common, they don’t have a specific timing in order to be anticipated. If they were every year, for example, noone would live there. So people attracted by the low prices and the nice places they rationalize that it’s been a long time since the last disaster and see the other people live happily near the seaside and buy properties. The more time passes by between hurricanes, the more houses are built. Think about yourselves, too, now. What do you think would happen if you had a shop and you were able to make an interested customer believe that the chances of purchasing your good would be fifty-fifty? Or if you were interested in someone that may be interested in you and you create to him/her a brain schema that s/he may have you but this can by no means be sure? Food for thought… The latter goes especially to men because women most of the times seem to “know” it already and thus use this foundation.
The Relationship is the Price you Pay for the Anticipation of it
The heading is a quote from the neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky in his fantastic course about Human Sexual Behavior in Stanford University. Of course you have already understood that a relationship has to do with 100% chances of acheiving the reward that our pleasure leads us to. It’s the case of the lowest dopamine effect. Furthermore, there are two receptors of dopamine, D1 and D2. On experiments on rodents was found that in order for a relatioship to be formed the levels of D2 receptors had to be high. After the relatioship is formed, in order to keep going there must be high levels of D1 and D2 has to be low. There is a downregulation of the D2 and an upregulation of the D1. If this process is prevented the pair bond will possibly break. In small words D1 has to do with faithfulness and D2 with attachment. In a non replicated study was found that the higher the ratio D2/D1, the greater the chances of the relatioship to last. More depressing than the above is the very important study that Sapolsky had mentioned. The scientists chose people that were feeling they had found their person for life, the person they were about to die in his/her arms. They were divided in two groups, the ones that have known their mate for 2,5 weeks and the ones who had been with their fully beloved mates for 5 years. They put the newly mated ones seeing pictures of their beloved ones and suddenly in between they were embedding pictures of their mate having a short-term relationship. At that time their reward circuit activated like hell. When they brought the same people five years later still in the commited relationship with their soulmate, their circuit remained unaffected… Instead Anterior Cingulate Cortex was activated which is the region that had to do with empathy and comfort. This study shows that the mate that in the beginning was making your blood flow like fire, now has become a comfortable armchair.
The Pleasure of Charity
The reward circuit is not activated only through a chocolate or an attractive human of the other sex or a gift. In 2008 Goldberg in “Money makes you happy – if you spend it on others” proved that the Reward Circuit and the production of dopamine are activated when you perform an act of kindness. This means that whenever we give to others and help people that are in need we immediately feel a pleasure and as a result we become happier. You see, value provision is proved to be beneficial not only to the receiver but to ourselves, as well.