I am looking forward to you reading my mind - identify this article?
October 13, 2007 3:49 PM   Subscribe

Help me properly remember this study or who wrote about it. It was about some animal that, in experiments, preferred the anticipation centers of their brain -- seeking circuits? -- stimulated over the pleasure centers. I read it in some poppish science book in the last few years and now I'm trying to more accurately recall it so I can use it in a talk, if I'm rembering it correctly.

I'm clearly missing some essential Googleable term or I've remembred part of this incorrectly. I've found the articles about cocaine anticipation and about novelty seeking but this was, as I remember it, about the whole idea that wondering "what's next?" and having that button pushed in your brain was a stronger motivator for these animals -- monkeys? rats? hamsters? earthworms? -- than just having their pleasure centers stimulated. The writer was using this to describe why things on the Internet were so fascinating to people, that it's like a mini soap-opera in every discussion.

This could have been Gladwell, or someone like him. Does this ring a bell for anyone else? I don't need the actual article or an authoritative citation but I'd like to make sure I'm remembering it correctly and can at lest refer people to where to go to read more about this, even if it's the book I read the study summarized in.
posted by jessamyn to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Could it be this? It's about an experiment in which monkeys were given a choice between an option that always gave them the same reward versus an option that would sometimes give them a larger or smaller reward. The monkeys preferred the option that didn't give them a consistent reward, seemingly indicating that they enjoyed the "risk" or the "gamble," and perhaps they enjoyed anticipating what their reward would be. The experiment was extrapolated to study gambling problems in humans. It doesn't sound exactly like what you're describing, but I thought it was worth a shot.
posted by amyms at 4:36 PM on October 13, 2007

Or perhaps it was a study featured in the book Stumbling On Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert. It's been described as a "part Malcolm Gladwell pop psychology and part self-help book."
posted by amyms at 4:44 PM on October 13, 2007

Hey, I am not familiar with the actual study you reference, but you might try "anticipation of reward" or "craving" as mentioned in this summary from NIDA.

You might want to also visit pubmed and search for Koob at Scripps - he does quite a bit of this work as well.

It is likely rats, who are the preferred model for drug addiction research. I'll check back in the morning and do a more thorough search if you haven't had success (I am heading out). I'd love to hear your talk!
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 4:45 PM on October 13, 2007

This BBC article seems related.

According to the article, Kent Berridge at U. Mich. believes that the 1950s study that identified the "pleasure centers" of rats' brains may have in fact been triggering desires rather than pleasure, as changing the rats' dopamine levels did not produce the same results as the electrode shocks did.
posted by solotoro at 5:01 PM on October 13, 2007

Oh, oops, sorry, he's not claiming his results are different. Just that increasing dopamine levels didn't make the rats make their happy faces. Or something.
posted by solotoro at 5:03 PM on October 13, 2007

Thanks so far everyone. Here are a few other sites that seem to be describing the study or the effect.

"There's a "seeking" circuit in brain which elicits eager anticipation -- the expectation for a reward. This stimulates the brain's pleasure center. In one study, the highest level of dopamine was released right before food delivery to monkeys who were pressing a bar." (link)

"You see, our brains evolved to give out the maximum pleasure reward, not for the pleasant things we already have, but for the pleasant things we anticipate getting. Literally, it is the thrill of the chase!" (link)

I'll do some more work with some more keywords -- dopamine, craving, reward, and see where that gets me.

And fb, my talk is about something totally different. This is just a metaphor I was going to use to explain why people seek out high turnover sites like MySpace (and MetaFilter) when they seem completely inscrutable to people who aren't at all interested in them. It's that whole idea of "oh I wonder what happens next?" that's even more compelling than "hey there's naked people having sex on this website" and I just wanted something to back it up. I'm going to go back through my reading list and see if I can pinpoint it any further.

Also, now that Google's so quick, when I Google all these terms I find THIS QUESTION which is totally maddening and yet oddly cool.
posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on October 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Rats trained to self-administer cocaine exhibited elevations in dopamine concentrations when they anticipated cocaine and again when they began to seek the drug. Arrows indicate when dopamine levels began to increase; the inverted triangle shows when rats approached the lever that triggered a cocaine infusion.

Link. This is crazy -- it seems according to the graph that anticipation accounts for about half of the total dopamine you get from taking the drug.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 6:57 PM on October 13, 2007

It sounds like it might be this snippet from page 96 of "Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior" By Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson - they mention rats, the seeking circuits, and how it relates to some internet behaviors.
posted by iconomy at 7:07 PM on October 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hey that's it, iconomy! I did read that book a while ago and how I decided it was something by Gladwell is completely mysterious now. It's all coming back to me, thanks so much and thanks to everyone who tried to help me with this admittedly vague quest.
posted by jessamyn at 7:10 PM on October 13, 2007

Thanks again everyone. If anyone wants to see the slides from my library talk, I mention this resource on slide #2 of this talk which I gave today.
posted by jessamyn at 7:24 PM on October 14, 2007

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