It’s a neurotransmitter thing
If dopamine is not all about feeling good, then why does the feel-good myth persist in the public imagination? I think it’s because so much research on dopamine has been conducted with regard to its role in motivating exploration toward our more primal “appetitive” rewards, such as chocolate, social attention, social status, sexual partners, gambling or drugs like cocaine.
However, in recent years, other dopamine pathways in the brain have been proposed that are strongly linked to the reward value of information. People who score high in the general tendency toward exploration are not only driven to engage in behavioral forms of exploration, but also tend to get energized through the possibility of discovering new information and extracting meaning and growth from their experiences. These “cognitive needs,” as the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to them, are just as important as other human needs for becoming a whole person.
How active is your nerdy dopamine pathway? If some or all of these statements describe you, dopamine might well be flowing strongly to your prefrontal cortex:
- I love spending time reflecting on things.
- I am full of ideas.
- I have a vivid imagination.
- I am interested in abstract ideas.
- I am curious about many different things.
Don’t understand why everyone else around you is so interested in sex, drugs and money, and why you get so turned on by stimulating ideas and learning new and interesting things? Now you have a potential answer: You may be highly sensitive to the reward value of information.
This essay is adapted from Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Scott Barry Kaufman
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., is a humanistic psychologist exploring the depths of human potential. He has taught courses on intelligence, creativity, and well-being at Columbia University, NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. He hosts The Psychology Podcast, and is author and/or editor of 9 books, including Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (with Carolyn Gregoire), and Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. In 2015, he was named one of “50 Groundbreaking Scientists who are changing the way we see the world” by Business Insider. Find out more at http://ScottBarryKaufman.com. He wrote the extremely popular Beautiful Minds blog for Scientific American for close to a decade.
Credit: Andrew French