Wednesday, June 25, 2008

ABC News Says: 'Trust Drug' Oxytocin Unbelievable For Now


'Adventure Center' Explains Why Brain Craves New Sensations
Newness Factor Weighs in on Brain

ABC News Medical Unit

June 25, 2008—


Humans may be wired to seek out new experiences, according to a study published Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Neuron [Wittmann et al., 2008].


During the study, [Bianca] Wittmann and her colleagues looked at people's brain activity through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)...

When people chose new images, Wittmann says that an area deep in the brain called the ventral striatum lit up on the fMRI scans. The ventral striatum is thought to be involved in emotions and behavior, including addictions.

"When people shoot up stimulant drugs like cocaine, they tend to trigger activity in this system," [Dr. David] Spiegel says.

When activated, nerve cells in the ventral striatum release a chemical called dopamine, which stimulates feelings of enjoyment and pleasure.

Even for the average person, not just people who use drugs, Wittmann says that the emotions brought about by the release of dopamine are "a large part of what keeps us going and what makes us get up in the morning"; they are our internal reward system for certain behaviors.

It may be these feel-good sensations that caused the participants to keep selecting the new images.
Because choosing a new picture in a psychology experiment is just like intravenous cocaine...

Left panel taken from Fig. 1 of Wittmann et al. (2008).

How nice. I guess their hard-hitting criticism of the oxytocin media neurohype was short-lived...

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At June 30, 2008 9:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always wondered how we could get hundreds of undergrads to show up for our psych studies. I always thought it was the fact that we made them do it for class credit, or else paid them like $6 per hour when they were trying to make rent at the end of the month and had already maxed out selling plasma. Little did I know we were practically giving away crack for free!

At June 30, 2008 11:05 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Well, now we know! Massive participation in all those rewarding psych studies can account for the latter statistic (below) published today in PLoS Medicine:

Cannabis use in the US and New Zealand (both 42%) was far higher than in any other country. The US was also an outlier in cocaine use (16%).

The study's conclusions?

Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones.

At July 01, 2008 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Neurocritic quotes:

Cannabis use in the US and New Zealand (both 42%) was far higher than in any other country. The US was also an outlier in cocaine use (16%).

Sure, Neurocritic, but what we reall need are rates of psychology experiment participation. I am sure those are much higher in the US than in many places, and this, dare I suggest, has become an important public health problem what with choosing pictures in a psych experiment being equivalent to self-injecting cocaine. I mean, we know it's true because there is brain-imaging data to prove it!

At July 02, 2008 8:30 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

But is there any correlation between cocaine use* and rates of psychology experiment participation? The US stats might be misleading...

* Actually, the paper "focuses on lifetime use and age of initiation of tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine."


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