Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More On Dopamine

This article on dopamine release and addiction makes the point that dopamine does more than simply make you feel better.

When we drink alcohol (or shoot up heroin, or snort cocaine, or take methamphetamines), our subconscious is learning to consume more. But it doesn't stop there. We become more receptive to forming subsconscious memories and habits with respect to food, music, even people and social situations.

In an important sense, says Morikawa, alcoholics aren't addicted to the experience of pleasure or relief they get from drinking alcohol. They're addicted to the constellation of environmental, behavioral and physiological cues that are reinforced when alcohol triggers the release of dopamine in the brain.

"People commonly think of dopamine as a happy transmitter, or a pleasure transmitter, but more accurately it's a learning transmitter," says Morikawa. "It strengthens those synapses that are active when dopamine is released."

Since listening and making music can release dopamine, something similar is probably happening. One of the first things that popped into my mind when I read this is that it's a possible explanation for people putting up with music educators that get over into what might be considered abusive behavior in other contexts. I've always felt the context in which music is made affects both the music and the musician and that positive rather than negative emotional environments are better, but this article suggests dopamine release may well trump that in some situations. Lots of abusive relationships in which the participants choose to remain are fueled by alcohol.

The positive side of all this is that paying attention to how one helps a client go about learning music making can reinforce positive attitudes and behaviors. It's another way of seeing how music can have beneficial effects on the personality of the music maker.

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