Fleshing Out Dopamine’s Role

This work generally assumes that one way a Liberal predisposition is genetically imbued is through a long form polymorphism of the gene for the D4 dopamine receptor. This polymorphism is generally assumed to diminish the effectiveness of the receptor in transmitting dopamine signals across the cellular membrane, thereby diminishing the intracellular effects of dopamine signals.

An interesting study has recently examined the effects of diminished dopamine signaling, and we present it here, to add to our body of knowledge on the subject.

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/18/6170.abstract (free abstract)

It shows that those with increased dopamine activity can better tolerate hardships, such as cheating, in the midst of competition. Individuals with higher dopamine function will tend to continue adhering to the rules of the competition, while trying harder to win within the rules.

Individuals with lower dopamine function will tend to exhibit greater rule breaking, and acting out aggressively when confronted with hardship in the midst of competition.

Obviously, this is in line with what we maintain about the natures of ideologues. Conservatives enter our economic competitions, and seek to win relentlessly, but within the agreed upon rules of the competition. Liberals, seek to break from the agreed upon rules, to use government to overturn results and punish the successful, rather than focusing solely upon their own performance.

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-05-differences-dopamine-hard-people.html

It also discussed distinct differences in those with high dopamine function, and those with low function. Specifically, those with high dopamine function tend to show increased brain activity in parts of the brain associated with reward and motivation. Those with lower function show increased activity in areas associated with environmental perception, social behavior, and self awareness.

Again, we have maintained that the high dopamine function of Conservatism tends to drive one to compete, and seek to succeed and gain rewards, while the lower dopamine function of Liberalism blunts that drive, and replaces it with a more socially mediated strategy designed to acquire success through social manipulations.

http://mangans.blogspot.com/2012/06/food-and-porn-as-supernormal-stimuli.html

To wrap this post up, it is recommended you stop by Mangan’s, and read his speech on food and porn as supernormal stimuli above. This is probably one of the more fascinating speeches I’ve seen. One of Mangan’s brilliant insights is that we are increasing the activity of dopamine in our culture, and in response to the increased dopamine we are releasing into our brains, our bodies are down-regulating their response to it. (You see this receptor down-regulating effect most acutely in steroid use. Shoot up with testosterone, and your body will gradually detect the high levels of testosterone signaling, and attempt to bring it back in line through diminishing the numbers of testosterone receptors on the cell surface. Less receptors to stimulate means less testosterone signal is produced, regardless of serum Testosterone levels.)

It is worth noting, environmental novelty increases dopamine function. I have always thought the brightly colored patterns preferred by Hippies were attempts to stimulate dopamine, and raise deficient signaling back into a more normal range (as was the drug abuse). Of course today, between HTC touchscreen cellphones with internet, music, games, and movies on demand, tablets, computers, mind-blowing video games, LCD TV’s, cable news, cars with their own touchscreen computers, and an internet of mind-boggling proportions, perhaps we are on dopamine overload, and this is down-regulating our competitiveness, and motivation. Many younger people today may not remember the time before the internet and all of this technology, but I do, and it was much less stimulating, and yet it felt as if the society were far more motivated.

If this reduction of dopamine sensitivity is happening, it is possible this is part of an ancient mechanism designed to shift an individual’s (and a population’s) r/K strategy, in response to the environment.

If an ancient group of humans was living in hard times, and food was scarce, there wouldn’t be much happiness, reward, or dopamine stimulation. In such times, this dopamine scarcity would increase receptor densities, and this increased dopamine sensitivity would shift the psychology to one which was more motivated, competitive, and aggressive, to acquire food, as well as shift the reproductive and rearing strategies to a more K-strategy. (all of this would operate in the context of genetic predisposition, obviously). In addition, increased receptor density would increase the reward signal obtained once hard work yielded a success. This would also mold the individual’s brain to pursue hard work aggressively, to acquire the potent dopamine high which hard work would produce.

If however, the rains came, the land bloomed, prey species exploded, and food was everywhere, then everyone would have dopamine coming out of their ears. Their bodies’ receptors would become less numerous, making their body less dopamine responsive (an environmental effect which would mimic the inherited long form polymorphism). As a result, the individuals would become more r, almost as if they had inherited less effective receptors. Add in a high amount of sexual stimulus further increasing dopamine activity, and the population would go full on r, until it reached the point where resources again became scarce, and dopamine receptors were no longer being overstimulated. (again, all of this would play out over the genetic predispositions each individual had brought to the table)

The real issue may not be solely dopamine activity, however. It may be how much effort and motivation is required to get our dopamine reward. The brain is trainable. Those who have to work for their dopamine reward (and who acquire a more potent reward in return for this work), will be trained to pursue competitive victory as a means of acquiring their little dopamine high. Meanwhile, those who have copious quantities of dopamine laid in their lap, never develop the drive to perform hard work, in search of a dopamine reward. Those individuals will seek a world where competition is unnecessary, and freely available resources are laid in their lap by a government dedicated solely to protecting their ability to enjoy dopamine.

It has always been known that man’s nature is like steel. It must be forged and honed by adversity and challenge. The real question is, if this mechanism is why our society is growing more r today, can it be controlled or manipulated in some fashion, maybe by altering the structures underlying our games and entertainment. If we can increase the psychological drives favoring motivation and productivity, we might be able to forestall the coming crash, and avoid all of the harshness and adversity Darwin seems so determined to foist upon us.

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