Work_dopamine_web

The dopamine factor

No-one could deny that we are all different and the examples of this are evident every day. Some of us welcome the addition of chilli to our food while others run from it as if from a dyspeptic Kodiak bear. Some of us favour sandals with socks while others shake their heads with sad disbelief. Yes, we are all different and that is perhaps most starkly evident in the workplace where genetically disparate folk come together for eight hours a day. In any given group of workers there are those for instance who are diligent and work hard and there are those who, to put it nicely, work soft. Now new research has found that the difference between someone with a capacity for hard work and someone without it could lie in a neurotransmitter in the brain.

The study was conducted on men and women aged eighteen to 29. The subjects were asked to perform a task involving pushing buttons, each task lasted about 30 seconds and they had to perform them repeatedly for about 20 minutes. They were asked to select either an easy or difficult task and were told that easy tasks would earn them one dollar while hard tasks would earn up to four dollars. So a person could earn anywhere from $40 to $160 depending on how hard they were prepared to work.

Using positron emission technology (PET) scans, the researchers measured brain activity.

The results showed that people who were willing to work harder for rewards had a higher level of release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex; areas of the brain involved in reward and motivation. By contrast, those who preferred not to work hard and preferred to take the easy option had high levels of dopamine in the anterior insula, a part of the brain that plays a role in emotion and risk perception.

On one level this could point to ways to treat mental conditions that feature a lack of motivation. It also however, points to the difficulty of treating psychological conditions with medications given that the same chemical can different effects in different parts of the brain.

On another level, it might mean that you should have sympathy for that office slacker; they aren’t just a “dope”, they merely have misplaced “dope-amine”.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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