In the past few months, romance and fantasy books have taken the internet by storm. One of these is The Empyrean series by Rebecca Yarros. These books became a bit of an obsession for me. (What’s not to love about a college full of love triangles and magic dragons?)

I devoured these books and many of my coworkers and friends did, too. A single mention of the series quickly prompted both gushing reviews and groans from the people around me.

Despite the fun I had reading, I noticed that I felt the need to add a disclaimer before recommending the series: “I mean, it’s all kind of silly,” I’d say.

I got curious about this need to separate myself from this thing that was bringing me joy. Of course, I decided to turn to science. What could it tell me about this experience of a guilty pleasure?

Maybe yours is romantasy books like mine, or maybe it's video games, reality TV or obscure corners of TikTok.

I spoke with neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach at the University of Oxford and several other researchers to get answers.

Kringelbach, who directs a center dedicated to studying human flourishing, pleasure and meaningfulness in the brain, says experiencing pleasure is critical to humanity’s survival.

. . .

Kent Berridge is a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan who has collaborated with Kringelbach in the past. He says for a long time he and other neuroscientists thought the thing we call “pleasure” referred to a singular system in the brain and was related to dopamine. But as they studied pleasure, they saw that it is just part of a cycle that includes wanting and liking, each involving different neural pathways.

Read the complete article in National Public Radio