The neurotransmitter dopamine is eliciting a lot of panic these days. According to books, articles and social media posts, our urge for a quick dopamine hit is why we crave cookies and spend too much time on Instagram. If we keep giving in to these desires, the rationale goes, we’ll never be able to stop ourselves.
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[But d]opamine is not inherently good or bad. The idea that dopamine produces feelings of pleasure came from early experiments in rodents, and later humans, that found the dopamine system was activated when animals encountered a reward. Food, sex, drugs and social interactions all set off releases of dopamine in the brain, suggesting the neurochemical is linked to any feel-good outcome.
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Kent Berridge, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, US, says, “We wouldn’t have evolved and we wouldn’t have survived, our ancestors, without dopamine.”