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It's Just Like Drug Addiction EVERYONE FREAK OUT: The Role And Limits Of Reward (Why Are We Hungry, Part VIII)
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April 18, 2012
4:44 am
First-Eater
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It's good that we're learning more and more about the brain's reward systems. I've spent months dissecting their role in hunger—and indeed, hunger is the subject of my upcoming AHS 2012 presentation!

(This is part VII of a series. Go back to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, or Part VII.)

Unfortunately, one side-effect of more brain science is more breathlessly ominous news releases claiming that the Vice of the Moment—whatever it is this week—is mediated by the same brain circuits that mediate drug addiction! EVERYONE FREAK OUT

"After a month of sugar binging and increased dopamine…

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April 18, 2012
5:59 am
Sean
Guest

... the successful regulation of outdoor tanning with natural sunlight, a major source of UV exposure, would remain problematic.

What an Orwellian mindset.

Bastiat was only joking to make a point when he talked about regulating the Sun.

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April 18, 2012
6:43 am
Leslie
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This subject brings to mind the Seeking behaviour Temple Grandin writes of in her books about animals, as well as discussed here http://mybrainnotes.com/brain-evolution-survival.html

Several researchers have noted the mind-body connection with respect to the influence of food and pharma vis a vis the brain, blood chemistry, and behaviours.

In my opinion we can learn a lot about the more "highly evolved homo sapiens" from observing animals; at the limbic level we're not much different.

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April 18, 2012
6:57 am
Judy
Guest

Loved this article but I'm wondering....how does the basal ganglia and "habit centers" of the brain fit in? When a behavior becomes habituated and no longer may even stimulate the reward centers in the same degree, but becomes either unconscious and scripted behavior, or more to avoid the pain of not having the substance than the pleasure of having it? What do we do about that pesky basal ganglia?

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April 18, 2012
7:07 am
Marilyn
Guest

". . . the successful regulation of outdoor sunlight. . ."

Scary enough, but it's been thought about. A couple of years ago, I read in a magazine that since a bunch of volcanic ash in the atmosphere has been known cool the earth

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer

maybe we could combat global warming by filling the upper atmosphere with volcanic ash, or some equivalent.

This food reward thing has always seemed a little silly to me. Thanks for your perspective on the matter.

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April 18, 2012
7:22 am
eddie watts
Guest

yay you're back to this series!

good simple write up, great stuff. incidentally i am going to re-read TGC soon to get my mind back into the gnoll mindset

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April 18, 2012
7:25 am
Elliot
Guest

When I saw that there was another part to this series I jumped up and down and clapped my hands! Well, mentally, anyway. My coworkers already have enough reasons to think me a little weird...

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April 18, 2012
8:37 am
gallier2
Guest

Thank you for this much needed clarification. I hope some others might learn something from it and avoid in the future snarky comments.

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April 18, 2012
11:48 am
js290
Guest

It's been rather obvious that the food reward theory on obesity was not much more than a specious explanation of the Conservation of Energy.

"Since the beginning of time man has yearned to destroy the sun. I will do the next best thing...block it out!" -C. Montgomery Burns

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April 18, 2012
1:38 pm
Kassandra
Guest

@Elliot - lol, me too! Figuratively, of course... I try to avoid giving my coworkers the (true) impression that I'm excessively strange. Oh, and I'm not supposed to be on the internet. Oops! :P

Thanks for the solid rebuttal... I had been seeing these types of articles seemingly everywhere, and my instinct was to ignore them, but it's good to have some science to back up why I'm dismissing them to friends and family.

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April 18, 2012
2:13 pm
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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Sean:

Bastiat was awesome!  Frankly, I prefer "What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen", 19th-centuryisms and all, to Hazlitt's rewrite of it in "Economics In One Lesson".

Leslie:

That's a great website, and it reminds me that I need to read Temple Grandin! 

The point that the subcortical structures of the human brain, including the reward systems, are essentially identical to those of other mammal brains is well-taken and extremely instructive.  (I thought about bringing it up myself, but decided that it would make the article too long!)  Our "conscious mind" (i.e. executive function, i.e. the forebrain) sits on top of these older systems: it doesn't replace them, it works through them and is mediated by them!

Judy:

If something only makes it to the basal ganglia, it's not really a "decision" in any meaningful sense of the word.  (I'm going to deliberately ignore the question of whether anything that happens in the brain is truly non-deterministic, i.e. "do we really have free will or just think we do?")  

For instance, when we jerk our hand away from something hot, that's a reflex action that doesn't even make it to the brain!  There's no "decision" to be made.  (Overriding that reflex is a pre-decision: we have to decide beforehand that we're going to ignore the pain and override the reflex.)  Similarly, something made at the level of the basal ganglia doesn't make it to any part of the brain we think of as "deciding": that's why we call it a "habit".  (And, as I mentioned back in Part VI, the experience of learning can modify our "likes" and "wants".)  

Like I said above to Leslie, our brains didn't just get bigger and more complex: they accreted, with the newer systems being built on top of the older systems, and working through them.  My oversimplified understanding is that stimuli basically get kicked upstairs until a brain system capable of dealing with them produces some sort of response...and the process of "learning" or "training" allows lower-level brain systems to deal with specific stimuli instead of kicking them upstairs (cf. martial arts training turning punches, blocks, and throws into reflexes).

Marilyn:

My understanding is that the real problem isn't global temperature: it's ocean acidification (and consequent marine life dieoff) caused by a rise in atmospheric CO2.  Blocking out the sun seems like it would just reduce ocean productivity, making the problem even worse.

I'm glad my perspective is helpful to you!

eddie:

People sometimes ask "Can't you write more simple articles like this?"  Well, it wouldn't sound so simple if I hadn't previously explained the science!

TGC is a book I keep coming back to...and I'm the one who wrote it down.  There is much important knowledge packed into very few words.  And I still miss Gryka.

Elliot:

I hope it justified the anticipation!

gallier2:

Arguments from authority can be a symptom that someone doesn't understand the problem quite as well as they think they do.  So can excessively slippery arguments: if someone has to continually fall back on "no, that's not what I meant, you don't understand, it's more complicated than that," it's possible that they don't really understand the problem themselves.

js290:

It's absolutely true that invoking the conservation of energy is a tautology.  (Cue the classic essay On Taubes And Toilets.)

However, I wouldn't use the word 'specious': the brain's reward systems are real, and there exist measurable phenomena that need explaining.  I think there's been both confusion and oversimplification of their role and limits -- and it's resulted in either a return to blaming sloth and gluttony, or (as Paul Jaminet pointed out) it becomes a protean catch-all for results that don't agree with one's hypothesis.

 

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and support!

JS

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April 18, 2012
2:16 pm
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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Kassandra:

Most of what passes for nutrition writing is, frankly, alarmism.  And please feel free to forward my articles to friends and family -- they're written to be understandable for people who aren't already "paleo".

JS

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April 18, 2012
3:07 pm
Auckland New Zealand
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May 5, 2011
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I've recently discovered another hunger / desire for food drive - menopause
Maybe this is why women put on weight at this time of life (certainly hormonal changes don't help) but I've just developed an intolerance to hunger!

https://www.google.com/search?q=menopause+hunger&ie=UTF-8

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April 18, 2012
3:18 pm
Auckland New Zealand
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May 5, 2011
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My observation too with children is that they differ an huge amount in how much pleasure / reward they experience from eating. My daughter loves food, my neice loves food, they revel in taste and smell and sheer enjoyment from eating. My son on the other hand is driven to eat through a growth spurt - but to him food is just fuel. Same with another niece. The food lovers struggle with weight, the fuel needers don't.

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April 18, 2012
3:25 pm
Jan's Sushi Bar
Guest

I love this post - just as I love all your posts - but I have an additional reason to appreciate this one. My youngest son just turned 17, and while we've had many discussions about drugs and alcohol in the past (he's the youngest of 5; there's a lot of "been there, done that" in all this), most of them have ended in, "and if I find out you've been doing any of this, I'll have to kill you."

My kids do not take that threat lightly.

Anyhoo, being the good libertarian family that we are, he's begun asking me questions about the dubious illegality of controlled substances lately, in what I feel is an attempt to find out if I'd have to kill him if they were legal (he is, after all, 17 and I'm always quick to point out that if he were to get arrested for possession I'd let him rot in jail). I was thrilled to be able to show him the quote in this post saying what makes drugs addictive (and dangerous) is that they stimulate the reward center of our brains without us actually having to DO anything. He's the sort of kid that kind of logic appeals to, so - THANK YOU.

Don't judge, y'all...I'm a menopausal woman desperately trying to get her last kid raised and on his merry way without screwing up too much in the process.

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April 18, 2012
3:51 pm
Leslie
Guest

Julianne, that's interesting. In Susan Allport's The Primal Feast, in a chapter entitled The Hungrier Sex, she observes that females innately have a different relationship with food than males ... for a whole lot of reasons discussed in her book. Primary one being the bigger investment in reproduction than males--from having all their genes in one single egg to the vulnerability to starvation while rearing offspring. Practically, foraging is something a female carrying an infant can do more easily than hunting. It has even been posited that optimal foraging lead to monogamous behaviour.

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April 18, 2012
4:42 pm
Daniel
Guest

From my research I've learned there have been several studies done since the 60's on "free will" and from what I've gathered, free will is supposed to be fake. Apparently there is a half second time lapse between when a "decision" is made by the brain and when we become consciously aware of said decision. A more appropriate name could be called "free hell-no" bc it would seem that the only choice we have at that point is to stop an action. How true any of that is, I have no idea. Sorry I don't have any literature to cite, it's been awhile since I read any of that. Anyway, thanks again for disseminating clarity; it's something I look forward to every week after being surrounded by stupid cows all day-I work directly with the public....
One thing that I would like to see you write more about is something you touched on briefly at the beginning of "Big Brains...." and that is teleology. I know your process is intense but I believe that teleology is an insidious mental trap that is super easy to fall into. Hell, just take all existing religions for example....how humans love to superimpose our conscious awareness on EVERYTHING. If I had more time, I could devote an entire blog to the subject.
Thanks again JS
Cheers
Oh, and for anyone interested in a political discourse(which I am now after reading this) you can't do much better than Keoni Galt @ The Hawaiian Libertarian.

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April 18, 2012
10:27 pm
Aaron Blaisdell
Guest

This just in, folks. The same neural circuits are activated by making love to your partner as are activated by looking at porn! Be very careful about your love addiction with your significant other, spouse, mistress, bedmate!

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April 19, 2012
6:30 am
Chris
Guest

“…Even if the issue of indoor UVL exposure is successfully addressed, the successful regulation of outdoor tanning with natural sunlight, a major source of UV exposure, would remain problematic.”

I have read a bit of research in my field, if I were to read something like this, I would interpret it as being said with tongue firmly in cheek. If I were to write it, the purpose would be to forestall those with the impulse to regulate.

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April 19, 2012
6:32 am
Chris
Guest

Other wise, as usual, a great post. I recommend you your site frequently to my clients (I'm a physical therapist).

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