Only a handful of years ago, I still threw an overwhelming amount of time into video games. In middle school, a single day would not go by without at least some exposure to it: some Tetris during class, a couple rounds of Call of Duty, and even some Minecraft. I now realize that behind those cravings for video games (and lack of craving for homework) is the flow and ebb of dopamine in my brain. This neurotransmitter facilitates the functions of our brain’s reward and pleasure center. Just as eating a second slice of pie releases this chemical in the brain, so does receiving a shower of Facebook likes. Not only does dopamine label certain behaviors as pleasurable and worth repeating, but it also drives us to act and move towards them. If so, can one completely detach any action from the effects of dopamine? This is definitely a point that began to open my eyes to the motives behind our actions, our lifestyles, our tendencies. Biobehavioral studies have already shown that dopamine plays a key role in the upkeep of addictions in the traditional sense. For the man living in a trailer behind Walmart whose business is the shooting and selling of heroin, dopamine almost single-handedly convinces him that what he does is beneficial to his well-being. We obviously know the destructiveness of hard drugs, yet to this man, his brain subconsciously assumes that he needs his heroin, that without it, a primary source of what’s ‘good’ and ‘rewarding’ is lost. All of this surfaces not as explicit thoughts, but as powerful internal forces, cravings he cannot ignore.
Ever since the creation of the Internet, we expect information and entertainment to reach us faster than ever before. Bits of social updates and factual information bombard us the moment we open our phone. Friends are nothing more than a text or tweet away. We can ship a new dress or pair of sneakers to our houses with no more than a few clicks. Any thought or inquiry we have brings back an instant flood of answers on Google. Society really has progressed at an alarming rate when it comes to the interconnectedness of humans. People expect to reach one another at a moments notice. The rate at which we interact on a societal level skyrocketed in the past half century and seems like telepathy when compared to the slower methods of interaction human beings have relied on for thousands of years before.
With both the reward-based infrastructure of our brains and this rapid change in societal norms, new and unexpected habits have resulted. Not only do we need awareness of the way societal stimuli changes our behavior, but also self-reflection on whether or not this change enhances our character. Any positive development in technology, society, and social structure must result in the improvement of our condition. In each of the upcoming Passion Blogs, I will touch on various aspects of how a dependency on dopamine influences our present reality and way of life by exploring topics such as technology, social media, drugs, porn, among many others. After all, few things can rival the importance of our genuineness and true character as humans.