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Dopamine.  It's the Real Thing...

Dopamine. It’s the Real Thing…

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  The other day, while getting up to speed on agencies I’d be meeting with, I watched Gabe Zichermann’s intro video.  Gabe’s the CEO of Gamification and its creative arm, Dopamine; they’re creative shops based, in part of behavioral marketing from a gaming standpoint.  I met Gabe and we had a nice chat – he’s a nice guy  and they seem to have a good thing going, but what stayed with me more was what he’d said in his video.

To paraphrase, he said that the ‘dopamine response’ – or pleasurable feeling as a reward for action, to put it very laymanly (look, I’ve birthed an adjective!) – takes place maybe once a day, or more likely once a week – or even year – in our working lives.

But video gamers experience this dopamine response hundreds of times an hour!  

That’s, in large part, what makes games so immersive, and even addictive.  And also leads to a different kind of fluid intelligence over time that allows one to adapt more quickly in certain, high intensity/short learning curve situations than those who have a more traditional intellectual background.

What stayed with me more, however, was the concept of the dopamine response  -which I’ve learned is very similar to the caffeine response, as interpreted by the body (there’s more to that, but I’m a writer, not a scientist, damnit!).

Anyway, in my new perception based on a severe lack of caffeine, I’ve noticed that my behavior has, indeed changed.  There are some things that I’m doing far less, now, and other things that I’m doing more of.  Truly, my behavioral patterns have shifted in response to whether or not I associated that activity with a cup of coffee in the past.

Which, taken another step, makes me wonder if I actually ever really enjoyed those activities at all?

In other words, was I experiencing a true dopamine pleasure response from the activity, or did the caffeine simply magnify a more minor response, tricking me into thinking that I enjoyed whatever activity it was more than I really did?

The ramifications of this, of course, are huge if you think about it.  And I do, because I have more energy and far more focus now than I did 3-weeks ago when I was still taking in a pot or more a day.

So, thinking about it, it sort of makes you question everything.  As I mentioned in one of the first posts, my primary fear was that I wouldn’t be able to write well and, even more importantly, that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.  Serious stuff for me.

Fortunately, I still do enjoy the writing just as much, and I think that the words (most of the time – not in this blog necessarily 😉 are better, because the thinking behind them is.

But larger issues exist if you unwind that intellectual thread.  What other things that I used coffee for to not just enjoy, but maybe even just get through are now affected?  For me, that’s the trick of it; distinguishing what parts of my life were true dopamine responses, and which were simply false, caffeinated burst of speed masquerading as real enjoyment – the fauxpamine response.

It’s a good question with no easy, or immediate answers.  But the good part, now, is that as I ask the questions, I know the conclusions I reach will be true.  And clear.