August 12, 2008 11:30 AM   Subscribe

A New State of Mind. "New research is linking dopamine to complex social phenomena and changing neuroscience in the process."
posted by homunculus (24 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

Text-only Google cache, if the direct link is slow.
posted by preparat at 11:46 AM on August 12, 2008

Montague’s experiments take advantage of his unique fMRI setup. He has four people negotiate with one another as they decide how much to offer someone else during an investing game. While the group is bickering, Montague is monitoring the brain activity of everyone involved. He’s also infiltrated the group with a computer player that has been programmed to act just like a person with borderline personality disorder. The purpose of this particular experiment is to see how “one bad apple” can lead perfect strangers to also act badly. While Montague isn’t ready to share the results — he’s still gathering data — what he’s found so far is, he says, “stunning, shocking even…. For me the lesson has been that people act very badly in groups. And now we can see why.”

Very interesting.

Thanks for posting this, homunculus.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:20 PM on August 12, 2008

Great article. Thanks.
posted by RussHy at 12:27 PM on August 12, 2008

Yeah thanks, I really enjoyed reading about this.
posted by nola at 12:29 PM on August 12, 2008

When someone unlocks the secrets of dopamine and serotonin, I think it'll be the biggest thing since the theory of relativity.
posted by empath at 12:37 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

This article is a little too breathless to take seriously.

Montague, who is uncommonly handsome, with a strong jaw and a Hollywood grin, first got interested in the brain while working in the neuroscience lab of Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman as a post-doc.

Montague exudes the confidence of a scientist used to confirming his hypotheses.

Seriously? Someone's in luuuuuuv.

I've been doing dopamine models for nigh on 7 years now; there's a pernicious tendency to explain *every* thing in terms of the midbrain dopaminergic system. Working memory, attention, social processing, etc, etc, etc. When you hear someone going on about how wonderful dopamine is and the magical things it does, keep in mind that it's only one of several neuromodulators acting together in the brain. People have latched on to dopamine in a big way because it has a fairly straightforward story that comes with it. Research in the field is still stalled in trying to figure out what other neuromodulators (like serotonin, implicated in depression, the second 'S' in SSRI) are up to. And the thing is, since their function isn't readily understandable as dopamine, they're probably doing much more interesting things.
posted by logicpunk at 12:42 PM on August 12, 2008 [10 favorites]

There's definitely something to this. William Burroughs wrote a considerable amount about schizophrenia and heroin addiction, and clinical research is also starting to shed light on this subject. To wit:
We believe that the role of methadone as an antipsychotic drug needs to be studied further; a better under-standing of the actions of opiates in schizophrenia might lead to etiologic indications, the scope of which could well extend beyond the therapeutic usefulness of opiates for dually diagnosed patients. Heroin and related opioid substances, indeed, produce specific effects on the dopaminergic pathways that are believed to be involved in the pathogenesis of schizophrenic symptomatology.
We've only scratched the surface of how dopamine works in the human brain. Thanks for this article.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:53 PM on August 12, 2008

Haven’t we evolved beyond the brutish state of “reward harvesting,” where all we care about is food and sex?

After extensively interviewing a sample set of exactly one person, I feel I can answer this with an emphatic, "Not even remotely."

Montague’s insight, however, was that ideas are just like apple juice. From the perspective of the brain, an abstraction can be just as rewarding as the tone that predicts the reward.

This explains so much of my behavior it's frightening.
posted by lekvar at 1:42 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

In related news, Guardian today reports how researchers are finally getting back to scientific studies of the value of using hallucinogens in therapy.

Intriguing exerpt:
Prof Roland Griffiths at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore Maryland recently published a study of 36 healthy volunteers who were given psilocybin and then observed in the lab. The participants' ages ranged from 24 to 64 and none had taken hallucinogens before. When the group were interviewed again 14 months later 58% said they rated the experience as being among the five most personally meaningful of their lives, 67% said it was in their top five spiritual experiences, and 64% said it had increased their well-being or life satisfaction.
posted by binturong at 1:54 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

thanks for this, homunculus. thanks, too, to binturong for that article as well.

sometimes, it's really hard to be alive, and willfully stay alive. it gives me a smidgen of hope that advances are being made in the area of brain science.
posted by CitizenD at 2:09 PM on August 12, 2008

MetaFilter: people act very badly in groups. And now we can see why.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating.

I wonder what the long-term effect of MDMA, or other dopamine- and serotonin-related stimualtants, has on our decision-making.
posted by Lleyam at 2:17 PM on August 12, 2008

A little edit...
"The working hypothesis is that if psilocybin or LSD can occasion these experiences of great personal meaning and spiritual significance ... then it would allow people hopefully to face their own lives completely differently - to restructure some of the psychological angst that so often occurs concurrently with existence," said Griffiths. So by expanding their consciousness during a session on the drug, the patient is able to comprehend their thoughts and feelings from a new perspective. This can lead to a release of negative emotions that leaves them in a much more positive state of mind.
Gotta think big, folks. But it's good that they're making a start. I hope Timmy Leary is orbiting nicely.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2008

Olds and Milner quickly discovered that too much pleasure can be fatal. After they ran a small current into the wire, so that the NAcc was continually excited, the scientists noticed that the rodents lost interest in everything else. They stopped eating and drinking. All courtship behavior ceased. The rats would just cower in the corner of their cage, transfixed by their bliss. Within days all of the animals had perished. They had died of thirst.

It's depressing to think that the cost of happiness could be that high.
posted by Pseudology at 2:44 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this! I keep being drawn to this work, and I'm never quite sure why. But I've been suggesting that we need to do parallel imaging of people interacting in real time for a while, and its astonishing to see these guys thinking along similar lines, for very different reasons. I'd back this horse.
posted by fcummins at 3:03 PM on August 12, 2008

I love the phrase "transfixed by their bliss." Best choice of words.

Great article(s)! Thanks!
posted by hopeless romantique at 3:18 PM on August 12, 2008

Neglected in this article is that neurotransmitters seem to be overloaded (speaking as a layman), with many functions based on context. For example, there are dopamine receptors in the heart and liver.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:24 PM on August 12, 2008

Wonderful article. I am reading Read Montague's book now, and just finished one that was a blast on Neuroeconomics (by Paul Glimcher). Montague's book, so far, is less about the work he is doing now, but Glimcher's book closely relates, even though it's less about the biochemistry as I recall. It's an interesting take on how the mind models value, makes predictions about opposing behavior, and by necessity, introduces random activity.

Nonetheless, I love these games that so often show how seemingly irrational behavior (acting against one's own self interest) can be evoked -- adding on imaging during the game is a wonderful touch. I'd love to see how the BPD-Bot affects the experiment. What would it do? I'd imagine it with a hair-trigger system and over-compensating reward/punishment mechanism. So a player can't easily predict a response, especially if the players are occluded in some way (such as in a crowd) so that it's not clear that the excessive reaction came from a single 'bad egg'. Then what do you do? Not knowing the game, it's hard to tell, but I wonder strategies tend to shrink (taking less risk, therefore minimizing chances of an excessive reaction) or expand, trying fend off or escalate above the BPD-bot.

Must know. Must also have BPD-bot to guard home, possible Scooba hack?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 3:49 PM on August 12, 2008

What would it do? I'd imagine it with a hair-trigger system and over-compensating reward/punishment mechanism. So a player can't easily predict a response, especially if the players are occluded in some way (such as in a crowd) so that it's not clear that the excessive reaction came from a single 'bad egg'. Then what do you do? Not knowing the game, it's hard to tell, but I wonder strategies tend to shrink (taking less risk, therefore minimizing chances of an excessive reaction) or expand, trying fend off or escalate above the BPD-bot.


Thanks, I'm having flashbacks about my dysfunctional childhood home now, where "BPD-bot" = "Mom."
posted by availablelight at 4:16 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

It turned out that smokers were perfectly able to compute a “what if” learning signal, which allowed them to experience regret. Like nonsmokers they realized that they should have invested differently in the stock market. Unfortunately, this signal had no impact on their decision making, which led them to make significantly less money during the investing game. According to Montague, this data helps explain why smokers continue to smoke even when they regret it. Although their dopamine neurons correctly compute the rewards of an extended life versus a hit of nicotine

That result is pretty shocking to me, and the conclusion a bit dubious. Anybody got a copy of the original?
posted by afu at 7:53 PM on August 12, 2008

It wasn't just the happy smile that fooled them. It was the fist-sized droud that protruded like a black plastic canker from the crown of Louis Wu's head. They were dealing with a current addict, and they knew what to expect. For years the man must have had no thought but for the wire trickling current into the pleasure center of his brain. He would be near starvation from self-neglect. He was small, a foot and a half shorter than either of the invaders. ...
Larry Niven, The Ringworld Engineers. published 1980.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 8:00 PM on August 12, 2008

Yeah, afu, if that were true, all smokers should be bad investors and someone would have worked that out by now. It's a lot more complicated, folks!

For one, you can make bad predictions about appropriate behavior and risk/reward in one area of life and be great at it in another (hence the politician with a mistress, the cocaine fiend who is a successful stockbroker, the psychiatrist who is great with patients but has been married 5 times).

Second, the notion that self-stimulation and drug-taking always beat natural rewards is not correct. Rats given a choice of morphine-laced water in a bare cage loved it; those given that choice in a cage with toys and girl-rats avoided becoming junkies. Lots of the experiments where the rats stimmed or coked themselves to death were done in circumstances where they didn't have much real opportunity for natural rewards-- which tells you that traumatic and unnatural circumstances can produce addiction (true!) but is not correct in suggesting that everyone given exposure will become an addict.
posted by Maias at 6:09 PM on August 13, 2008

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