Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Justin Bieber Causes Psychosis, says a leading neuroscientist

Well not really, but it's not too much of a stretch to combine two recent pop neuro threads on the evils of dopamine into one dopameme. In the first, heretofore reputable neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin of McGill University is quoted in the Daily Mail:
'Beliebers' suffer a real fever: How fans of the pop sensation have brains hard wired to be obsessed with him

By Mail On Sunday Reporter
PUBLISHED: 18:29 EST, 30 June 2012 | UPDATED: 07:20 EST, 1 July 2012

Justin Bieber fans can’t help their obsession – it’s hardwired into their brain, says a leading neuroscientist.

According to Professor Daniel Levitin ‘Bieber Fever’ (symptoms include screaming, fainting and constantly tracking the teen idol on Twitter) is a real physical compulsion.

When ‘Beliebers’ – as Bieber’s 44 million fans are known – listen repeatedly to his music, a chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure is released in their brains.

‘It triggers a rush of dopamine, the neurotransmitter stimulated by lots of other pleasurable activities such as orgasms or eating chocolate,’ Professor Levitin said last week.

The neuroscientist, of McGill University, Montreal, added: ‘Dopamine is released at much lower levels by music than, say, the use of drugs and the result usually is an obsession, in which you require more and more Justin Bieber.’

In the second part of our dopameme, a recent post by Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley in Psychology Today explained how computers and video games cause psychosis:
Computer, Video Games & Psychosis: Cause for Concern

. . .

In my practice in the past six months, no less than five youths have reported psychotic symptoms that were attributed to, or exacerbated by, electronic screen devices.

The mechanism for this anecdotal deterioration? Dopamine!
Electronic screens, particularly interactive ones (as opposed to passive ones, like television), increase dopamine in the reward center of the brain. This effect has been demonstrated by brain scan (Koepp, 1998: http://www.nrc-iol.org/cores/mialab/fijc/Files/2002/120402_Koepp_Nature_1998.pdf ) Dopamine is known as the brain's "feel good" chemical, but is also related to stress, addiction, anxiety, mood, and attention. Dopamine in excess can lead to psychotic symptoms--voices, delusions, paranoia, or confusion.

Good god. Dirk Hanson has started a comment thread on this irresponsible claim, Screen Time is Melting Our Children’s Brains—Or Something, at Addiction Inbox. I have a [pending] comment there, along with Neuroskeptic and Professor Keith Laws [edited to add].

Let's Go Back Inside the Brains of Bieber Fans

Did Levitin actually say that Bieber fever is "hardwired"? Probably not. [UPDATE (July 9, 2012) - In a comment, Dr. Levitin has confirmed that he was misquoted by the MAIL. What a surprise!] The Daily Mail might be considered a little less reputable than the Wall Street Journal:
What's Behind Bieber Fever? Neuroscience Offers Explanation; a 'Safe' Infatuation


. . .

Hearing familiar, favorite music stimulates the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and addiction, providing the same rush as eating chocolate or that winning does for a compulsive gambler, says neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, who was able to observe the process using fMRI scans in his lab at McGill University in Montreal.

Dr. Levitin's research also showed that musical tastes formed in the teen years become part of the brain's internal wiring, as that is the time when some neural pathways are solidifying and others are being pruned away. That's why the music adults tend to be nostalgic for is the music from their teenage years.

But more importantly, I've received an anonymous tip that another leading neuroscientist bears an uncanny resemblance to Justin Bieber.

Disclaimer: Neither Levitin nor Dunckley actually said that Bieber causes psychosis.

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At July 06, 2012 2:07 AM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

Whoa. The Bishop-Bieber resemblance is really uncanny.

At July 09, 2012 11:32 AM, Blogger Daniel Levitin said...

Actually, I didn't say any of those things attributed to me in the MAIL article. It was one misquote after another. Sheesh.

At July 09, 2012 11:46 AM, Anonymous Belieber said...

Even funnier, trying to make a mathematical model of Bieber Fever! This paper, which I'm not sure was actually published anywhere, was quite a read. http://mysite.science.uottawa.ca/rsmith43/publications.html (see #2)

At July 10, 2012 6:25 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Neuroskeptic - I belieb someone pointed it out to her on Twitter when she changed her avatar...

Daniel Levitin - I updated the post to confirm that the MAIL did indeed misquote you.

Belieber - Thanks for the link! The paper makes a major contribution by identifying the "Lindsay Lohan Effect" as the only way to stop Bieber Fever:

"Even an outbreak of Bieber Fever that would otherwise burn out (driven by fans becoming bored within two weeks) can still be sustained if media events are staggered. Negative media can rein in oversaturation, but continuous negative media (the Lindsay Lohan effect) is the only way to end Bieber Fever. It follows that tabloid journalism may be our last, best hope against this fast-moving and highly infectious disease. Otherwise, our nation’s children may be in a great deal of trouble."

The chapter will be published in a book that's forthcoming.

The second author, Robert Smith? (yes, the question mark is part of his name), has another publication of interest: an edited volume called Braaaiiinnnsss! From Academics to Zombies.

At June 29, 2013 10:19 AM, Anonymous Justin Bieber said...

I love you Justin Bieber
All About Justin Bieber


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