How Does The Brain Create Motivations And Desires For Life

2021-02-25   |   by CusiGO

People who knew her said that my great grandmother Rosa, who lived to 103, had lost her desire to live and just wanted to die. But when my aunt Felisa lived to 102, she never lost this desire. Until the last few hours of her life, she could always find a reason to continue her life, whether it was a nephew’s wedding, a new family member’s baptism, a glass of strong wine or the nougat in the market. I’ve been thinking about what could have felt so different in the tired brains of my two old ladies.

One possible answer reminds me that many years ago, in our lab at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, we studied the behavior of mice. They press a small lever from the cage, activate a device, and send small power to the brain through the electrodes in the cage. Implantation. We never doubt that these discharges are pleasant, and that’s why rats keep pressing the lever for hours or even days until they starve to death. Neurons in one area of the brain stem (the ventral tegmental area) release the neurotransmitter dopamine to another area of the brain base (the nucleus accumbens) over time. That’s why, in the first few years, we believed, as we explained to students, that dopamine was the brain substance that produced happiness.

But when nature published an article that showed that even if dopamine was exhausted and no longer released into the brain, the mice would continue to press the lever, that is, without dopamine, happiness would still exist. So what does dopamine do? Do we want to know? Recent experimental results show this. On the one hand, we now know that when dopamine in the rat brain is reduced by injection of a dopamine forbidden substance (6-hydroxydopamine), their ability to be happy does not decrease, because their positive response to sweetness remains intact. Parkinson’s patients also lack dopamine in their brains, and they don’t lose their happy response to sweetness. On the other hand, dopamine deficient mice were also found to show a complete loss of interest or motivation, unable to engage in behaviors such as crowbars or mazes designed to obtain food, Only when the level of dopamine returns to the normal released part of the brain, can animals regain the motivation and behavior to obtain dopamine.

Therefore, we now think that when dopamine is released into the brain, what it does is to increase the motivation and value motivation of happy things, and generate desire, although it does not bring happiness or real hedonistic influence. It’s like this material motivates you to do whatever is necessary to get something good and happy, no matter where it is. Interestingly, there are also data showing that patients with Parkinson’s disease who receive levodopa and other substances to increase brain dopamine will not increase their positive reaction to happiness, but they do show some kind of compulsive motivation and increase their desire for games, hobbies, shopping, pornography and other activities, Generally speaking, the Internet and so on, even if you don’t see their increased happiness, can also prove that this kind of behavior is justified.

This stimulating effect of dopamine is particularly reflected in incontinence. When we open our mouth with the first sofa or French fries during celebrations, we all feel that we continue to eat. Dopamine in the brain increases the stimulus value of pleasure related stimuli. In this case, it is related to food, but has nothing to do with happiness itself, which makes the continuous behavior of seeking happiness more intense and frequent. That’s why after the first French fries, we can’t stop eating. For drug users or any other type of addict, this incentive seems to be particularly strong, because any incentive related to drug use will produce. A vision of “Camel”, where you get the drug, can stimulate the brain dopamine, and use it to stimulate you to do anything to get its desire and motivation.

We also know now that dopamine increases when we are stimulated by all kinds of novelty, that is, when new and unexpected things happen around us, neuroscience calls it “prediction error”. Novelty almost always appears in the rich life of young people, not to mention the poor life of the elderly. Their weakness, laziness or lack of family support make them sedentary and confined. Therefore, it is very important to encourage the elderly to have as rich and active personal and social life as possible, so that their brain can release dopamine, thus increasing and maintaining their motivation and desire, and even in the elderly, they should continue to live.

Ignacio Morgado Bernal is a professor of psychobiology at the Institute of neuroscience and School of psychology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is the author of desire and happiness: the science of motivation (Ariel, 2019).

Gray matter is a space that attempts to explain how the brain creates thought and controls behavior. Senses, motivation and sensation, sleep, learning and memory, language and consciousness, as well as their main obstacles, will all be analyzed as the belief that knowing how they work is equivalent to better understanding ourselves and improving our happiness and relationship with others.

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