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Dopamine explained in exactly 500 words
You’ve just woken up. What’s the first thing you do?
If you’re like me, you get your first dopamine hit of the day - you reach for your phone.
Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that sends messages between nerve cells.
It has many functions but is most known for its ability to make you feel pleasure while anticipating rewards. The right dopamine levels help you stay happy, be more productive, and learn faster.
With this in mind, I’ll try to give you a steady supply of dopamine hits while you read this article.
If I’m successful, you’ll get at least 6.
Dopamine and Behavior
Dopamine drives a chunk of your behavior, sometimes even against your better judgment.
Addicted to gambling? Blame dopamine. Opened Twitter for the 96th time today? Dopamine again. Wasted 30 minutes on Instagram while sitting on the toilet? This time it’s probably that spicy curry.
Interestingly, dopamine spikes are the sharpest when the probability of a reward is around 50%, not when it is guaranteed. In other words, you get a larger dopamine hit while gambling than you do while waiting for your salary.
Casino owners know this. They make your chances of winning seem like 50%, even when they’re actually much lower. This makes you want to keep playing and ensures that casinos are always swimming in cash.
Most apps also use this knowledge of dopamine to keep you hooked. Instagram moved away from showing photos in reverse chronological order and instead now shows a curated list of pictures that changes when refreshed. It keeps you expecting something new, without knowing whether it’ll be good. In other words, it keeps you hooked.
Dopamine, Survival & Dominance
Dopamine has its downsides, but in evolution’s winding path to your doorstep, it’s been a net positive.
Its most obvious benefit is that it reinforces behavior that helps with survival. For example, it’s the reason you crave calorie-dense foods. These foods helped your ancestors survive in the wild, and it’s not dopamine’s fault that you’ve filled your fridge with chocolates instead of fruits.
Dopamine might also be a contributing factor in our species’ world domination. Our nervous systems exhibit higher levels of dopamine as compared to apes, which enables us to work for rewards in the distant future, sometimes as far as after death – a.k.a. heaven.
As you probably know – belief in the afterlife drives most religions and is responsible for ensuring mass cooperation. This helps us not kill each other, and instead, work together to dominate the world.
Our nervous systems evolved in the wild, but our environments today are drastically different. Dopamine hits have become more frequent, and most of them are now distractions.
To maintain your sanity, I recommend removing pointless dopamine triggers from your environment. Start with your smartphone - uninstall distracting apps, batch notifications from others, and sleep with your phone far away.
In a world that’s bound to get crazier, control your dopamine hits instead of letting them control you.
That’s it for this week!
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Thanks, and see you next week.