You are reading Dopamine, do you know how the “reward” mechanism works?


Dopamine, do you know how the “reward” mechanism works?

January 11, 2019

Dopamine is a very powerful neuromediator, able to interact with our behaviors because it is released from the brain whenever we feel gratification and satisfaction. Precisely because each of us is led to research and recreate those feelings that have made us feel satisfaction, dopamine puts in way what is called the “circuit of reward”, or circuit of reward, pushing us to repeat the behaviors that have given us pleasure and triggering the well-known mechanism of addiction. We talked about it with Professor Daniela Lucini, Head of Medicine at Humanitas.


The circuit of the reward

When we talk about the reward circuit, we’re talking about how human learning and behaviour works. This mechanism is the basis of the possibility of learning from experience, which consists in repeating what in us produces feelings of gratification and well-being and discarding what does not. Our brain, whenever we experience moments of pleasure, releases some substances that act as reinforcement to that same stimulus, remarking it. The reward circuit is called this because it describes the mechanism of reinforcement of a given experience towards its repetition. The reward circuit works through the circulation of dopamine, released every time we feel gratification, both physical and psychological.


Natural and artificial gratifications

Rewards can be divided into two types: natural ones (related to experiences such as eating, having sex, playing sports, having social relations) and artificial ones, which provide a release of dopamine from something unnatural, such as sucrose contained in junk food, or the mechanism with which a social network is created, strong salient stimuli such as lights and colors or even drugs.

When an addiction is installed, artificial gratifiers take the place of natural gratifiers. To come out of such an addiction is therefore to put the natural gratifiers back in their original place.

The dopamine market and how to defend yourself

Anyone who is able to “control” the dopamine market will produce loyal consumers and secure an insured income.

The total legal and illegal dopamine business amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars. Just think of alcohol, nicotine and illegal drugs. In Europe alone, we are talking about a total of at least 300 billion EUR for alcohol, 150 billion EUR for tobacco and around 20 billion EUR for the main illegal drugs. If we add the junk food business, budgets are still rising, not to mention the business that revolves around the dysfunctional behaviors generated by social networks.

As always, the only mechanism of defense against addiction is the awareness that comes from knowledge.

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