04 February 2010

Dopamine Drives Risk Taking and Status Seeking

The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a vital role in determining an individual's level of drive and ambition, as well as thrill seeking behaviours.  Two recent studies look at important behavioural effects of the monoamine neuro-molecule.
Our need for stimulation and dopamine's action upon the brain are connected, which explains why people who constantly crave stimulation are in danger of addictive behaviour such as drug abuse and gambling. _SD
People have typically viewed the benefits that accrue with social status primarily from the perspective of external rewards. A new paper in the February 1st issue of Biological Psychiatry, published by Elsevier suggests that there are internal rewards as well.

Dr. Martinez and colleagues found that increased social status and increased social support correlated with the density of dopamine D2/D3 receptors in the striatum, a region of the brain that plays a central role in reward and motivation, where dopamine plays a critical role in both of these behavioral processes. _Eurekalert
Both studies were collaborative, representing the work of neuroscientists from several research centers in Europe, Japan, and the US. The research is quite intriguing, as it suggests that dopamine may be a source of exquisite internal conflict -- between the drive to take risks, and the drive to achieve and hold high status. Of course, in a material world, the two drives can also work together.
Many individuals experience the urge to engage in new activities every day, and that's perfectly understandable. However, some are looking for more than that, experiences that will take their senses to a whole-new level. Other than extreme sports and gambling, there isn't very much else that can fulfill that and be legal. Psychologists have been aware of this type of behavior for years, but science has failed to pin down an underlying hormonal activity that triggers it, until now. The international group of scientists in charge of the recent study came from the University of Copenhagen, the University of Aarhus, and the University of Tokyo, in Japan. _Softpedia
Interestingly, patients who take dopamine replacement and dopamine-sparing treatments for Parkinson's Disease also often manifest strong tendencies to take risks -- including pathological gambling.

I wonder how one would program such drives into an artificial intelligence.

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