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Chemical in brain linked to “pleasure principle”

Monday, November 16th, 2009 Chemical in brain linked to “pleasure principle”

Scientists have found that a chemical in the brain drives people’s everyday decisions in the pursuit of pleasure.

Research suggests that neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps transmit signals between nerve cells, is linked to the “pleasure principle” whereby people’s behaviour is linked to being rewarded.

The chemical produces a pleasant feeling and is believed to be an important factor in drug addiction.

The study, taken out by the University College London, used 61 participants and asked them to imagine their ideal holiday.

The volunteers were asked to consider their prospectus level of happiness at 80 different countries. They were then given drug L-DOPA, that stimulates the production of dopamine and then asked once again to imagine holidaying at each of the 80 destinations.

During the second day of the trial the participants were asked to pick between two destinations that they had originally assigned an equal rating to at the beginning of the study.

One member of each pair had been imagined under the influence of the dopamine-enhancing drug, L-DOPA. The other had been imagined after taking a dummy ”placebo”.
At the end of the study, the participants were once again asked to rate all 80 destinations again.

The results of the study revealed that the chemical dopamine did influence the participant’s choice of holiday destination.

The ratings of each destination also increased under the influence of L-DOPA.

Dr Tali Sharot, leader of the study Dr Tali Sharot, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL said: ”We had reason to believe that dopamine will enhance expectations of pleasure in humans,”

”However, we were surprised at the strength of this effect. The enhancement lasted at least 24 hours and was evident in almost 80% of the subjects.”

Dr Sharot believes that the effects could last for weeks or even months, but further tests would need to be conducted to confirm this.

The researchers wrote in the journal Current Biology: ”Understanding how hedonic expectations are formed is critical both for understanding human action, which is largely driven by estimations of future pleasure and pain, and for understanding how pleasure expectation can go awry in a multitude of neuropsychiatric disorders that implicate dopamine, such as drug addiction.

”The current study highlights the neurobiological basis of this key aspect of human behaviour, providing direct evidence of a critical role for dopamine in modulating the subjective pleasure expected to be derived from future life events.”

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