I listened to The Huberman Lab podcast episodes on dopamine and found the topic extremely interesting. It’s fascinating to me how everything is ruled by chemicals and neuroscience can explain so many aspects of our lives.
In this article you will find out what dopamine is and how it affects us and what the link between dopamine, motivation and social media is. Please note that the social media use case is not used as an extensive example in the episodes I have listened to, but I believe the underlying mechanisms are the same and the example is correct.
What is dopamine?
Dopamine is a molecule that is associated with pleasure. You produce more dopamine when you eat a piece of chocolate, for example and certain activities release more dopamine than others.
There are two key things I learnt:
- There is a pain pleasure balance
- Anticipation plays a big role
Let’s go through them in detail.
Pleasure pain balance
In her book Dopamine Nation, Dr Anne Lembke (interviewed on the podcast) explains that there is a balance between pleasure and pain, like a scale with two plates, or a see-saw. When one side is going up, the other goes down. But, the brain strives for balance. Therefore, if you engage in an activity that releases dopamine and tips the scale towards pleasure, it will subsequently try to balance it out. The issue is, it will overcompensate and you will feel in a lower mood than before.
That is to say, the pleasure side will have gone below baseline, where the balance is 50-50. To restore the level of before, you will try to get a new spike, by engaging in the activity again. However, you will then fall even lower. And the cycle can easily continue.
Dopamine is not only released by certain activities, but also by their anticipation. This is why the possibility of winning some money will make you want to gamble, for example.
There are many reasons why people use social media and each case is unique. Many people use social media to intentionally interact with friends and to stay on top of the news, for example. Sometimes, folks find themselves reaching for their phones when they are bored, stressed or upset.
This can be linked to the fact that social media provides users with many dopamine inducing moments.
You are always one post away from something potentially amazing (whatever that may be jn that circumstance: funny, informative, helpful, interesting). This triggers a dopamine release, because of the anticipation aspect. And the fact that not every post is, in fact, mind-blowing, means that your dopamine level will drop frequently, leading you to more scrolling, hoping for the next best thing. Novelty is another thing that is linked to dopamine, and we can easily find that on social media, too.
This is a very complex and interesting topic, if you have any further resources please share them in the comments below.