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Dopamine Makes You an Internet Addict!

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by Ben Cohen

Waking up each morning, my first thought is to go online to check various news outlets online. I literally cannot wait to find out what I've missed over night, what interesting debates are happening, whether there is breaking news in the world of science, technology or the environment. The best bit about finding my information online, is that there are an infinite amount of hyperlinks that send me to all corners of the internet, and keep my insatiable desire for information somewhat satiated.

It's part of the reason why I blog, because I can't imagine a world where my interests are subdued in order to 'get things done'. Blogging is not work for me. It is fun.

According to neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, this isn't really my fault. Our evolutionary desire to continuously 'search' for things (food, water, partners etc) doesn't just exist for our physical needs. From Slate:

For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical
needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract
rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the
world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining
meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.

The juice
that fuels the seeking system is the neurotransmitter dopamine. The
dopamine circuits "promote states of eagerness and directed purpose,"
Panksepp writes. It's a state humans love to be in. So good does it
feel that we seek out activities, or substances, that keep this system
aroused—cocaine and amphetamines, drugs of stimulation, are
particularly effective at stirring it.

And apparently, so is the internet. But be warned, writes Emily Yoffe, the endless search for information may have its limits:

If humans are seeking machines, we've now created the perfect machines
to allow us to seek endlessly. This perhaps should make us cautious. In
Animals in Translation,
Temple Grandin writes of driving two indoor cats crazy by flicking a
laser pointer around the room. They wouldn't stop stalking and pouncing
on this ungraspable dot of light—their dopamine system pumping. She
writes that no wild cat would indulge in such useless behavior: "A cat
wants to catch the mouse, not chase it in circles forever."
She says "mindless chasing" makes an animal less likely to meet its
real needs "because it short-circuits intelligent stalking behavior."
As we chase after flickering bits of information, it's a salutary

As for me, it's probably too late. I'll be chasing the laser points for a long time to come.