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What Is The Brain Reward System

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The Brain Reward System How Does It Work

2-Minute Neuroscience: Reward System

The brain reward system is a mechanism, which includes a series of structures. These structures get into action in response to rewarding stimuli. For example, when you see a fresh pizza, a cup of hot chocolate, or anything that you want to achieve, your brain releases dopamine. This neurotransmitter increases your motivation to get what you have just seen.

Two scientists, James Olds and Peter Milner are believed to be the first individuals who discovered the existence of the brain reward system. In the 1950s, they found that stimulating different areas of the mammals brains could result in an increased motivation to go for something. This find also led them to think that it was possible to change human behavior by applying electrodes to specific areas of the brain.

That said, we are now going to discuss different structures of the brain reward system.

The Brain Reward System: How Does It Work

WOOP Method To Achieve Your Goals

The brain reward system is a fascinating mechanism in itself. Every process that has something to do with motivation is related to the reward system. On the flip side, a majority of people think that this part of the brain causes addiction. An essential aspect that must be understood here is that having goals is as necessary as health and well-being. Every neurological change that brings motivation and pleasure is powered by this complex group of neural structures.

Your brain reward system controls the resulting emotions that occur when you eat, drink a cup of coffee, wait for a like on the photo you have just posted, and everything that tends to invoke the feeling of motivation, satisfaction, or pleasure.

Most of us talk about another neural activity that helps us ensure our survival. This brain activity mainly involves primordial instinct, which triggers automatic responses. The very basic emotion governing these responses is fear. The primary function of this emotion is to make you careful. If you get a feeling that you have dangers all around you, and you need to stay in your safe zone, it is most likely due to this emotion.

Updating Our Reward Value System

We can update our system by adding one simple thing to the situation our awareness and attention. I talk a fair bit about the importance of attention and awareness in my post The Heroes of Heros: The Osiris Myth & Attention. Attention is like our superpower! It gives us the ability to cast out will into the future, but more importantly, we can use it to change what we find rewarding.

The only way we can update our brain systems is if our brain determines that what it already knows is outdated and doesnt work.

This requires giving it new information.

This new information will come in the form of mindfulconsumption, as opposed to mindless consumption.

According to Dr. Jud, paying attention to the results of the behavior in the present, we can accurately determine how reward a behavior actually is rather than just run our old automated reward values.

Let me give the example of smoking a cigarette. Im using this example because I used these methods to quit my fairly heavy cigarette habit back in the day.

Our brains can now take this new information and use it to update its reward value system and place the cigarette in a more accurate position, probably somewhere near the bottom.

When we practice mindful consumption, we give our brains a chance to rediscover how rewarding something is for us now.

No longer do we have to be chained to our past experiences. Through mindfulness we can create new associations.

Awareness can reset our reward value system.

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What Is The Reward System

The term reward system describes a group of structures that are activated by rewarding or reinforcing stimuli, such as addictive drugs or alcohol. When the brain is exposed to a rewarding stimulus, it reacts by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

It links the ventral tegmental area , one of the principal dopamine-producing locations in the brain, with the nucleus accumbens, a region discovered in the ventral striatum that is strongly related to motivation and reward.

The reward system is generally considered to be made up of the central dopamine pathways of the brain and structures like the VTA and nucleus accumbens, which are connected by these dopamine pathways.

What Is The Reward Pathway Of Addiction

How Dopamine works in favor of our Reward System

What is the reward pathway of addiction? A reward pathway, or reward system, refers to a group of brain structures that are activated by rewarding stimuli. The most crucial reward pathway in the brain is known as the mesolimbic dopamine system. Though there are other existing reward pathways, the dopamine reward system is a key detector of rewarding stimuli.

How does the reward pathway relate to addiction?;Although each drug has a different mechanism of action, each drug increases the activity of the reward pathway by increasing dopamine transmission. Because of the way our brains are designed, and because these drugs activate this particular brain pathway for reward, they have the ability to be abused.

Which pathway is the reward pathway?;The mesolimbic pathway, sometimes referred to as the reward pathway, is a dopaminergic pathway in the brain. The pathway connects the ventral tegmental area in the midbrain to the ventral striatum of the basal ganglia in the forebrain.

What is the main pathway of addiction?;Addictions center around alterations in the brains mesolimbic dopamine pathway, also known as the reward circuit, which begins in the ventral tegmental area above the brain stem. Cell bodies of dopamine neurons arise in the VTA, and their axons extend to the nucleus accumbens.

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Activation Of Brain Reward Substrates By Direct Intracerebral Microinjection Of Addictive Drugs

Just as systemic injections of addictive drugs enhance brain reward substrates, so too does intracerebral microinjection. Compellingly, the brain sites that support intracerebral microinjections of addictive drugs are, by and large, the same brain sites that support electrical brain-stimulation reward . Thus, it may be inferred that common neural substrates underlie reward-enhancement induced by addictive drugs, however administered. This is an important component of the conception that addictive drugs derive their addictive actions by enhancement of brain reward mechanisms.

What Structures Are Involved In The Reward System

The reward system is in the brain. In fact, it is not located in a specific area of the brain. Like most of our functions, it is distributed in different areas connected to each other, forming a kind of circuit.

The knowledge of these areas is complex since our brain is an organ difficult to analyze and study. However, the areas that have been shown to participate in this reward system are:

  • The tegmental area.
  • Prefrontal cerebral cortex.
  • Pale core.

To sum it up simply, it can be said that most of the reward circuit resides in a circuit called the mesolimbic pathway. The substance that allows this circuit to be activated is dopamine.

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A Network Supporting Reward Valuation

Frank et al. Wrase et al. 1Figure 2. Nucleus accumbens connectivity during reward valuation.Camara et al. results embedded in a wider motivation/learning circuit . The wider network is slightly modified from Kelley . Regions functionally connected with the nucleus accumbens after unexpectedly large sums were won or lost are superimposed on a group-averaged structural MRI image in standard stereotactic space . Gains and losses connectivity patterns are simultaneously depicted: gain , loss and conjunction gain loss .These results complement a previous connectivity study in which micro-structural properties of white matter tracts were predictive of functional connectivity after reward delivery. Importantly, the projections connecting the amygdala with the hippocampus, the OFC, and the VS not only predicted connectivity derived from fMRI time series but also participants behavior following both positive and negative feedback in a reversal learning task . One important aspect is that these results highlight the involvement of the VS as a key region in the motivational network

What Situations Activate The Reward System

Brain’s Reward System

As we already mentioned, the reward system is actually an adaptive function. Thus, its related to the basic needs that allow us to survive individually and as a species.

Firstly, its responsible for aspects such as eating, drinking, or having sex. The taste of food gives us pleasure, the same as drinking water when youre thirsty, or taking part in sexual activity. Thus, it stimulates the learning and repetition of these actions.

However, these arent the only functions that motivate this system. For example, you can experience pleasure with games, sports, and, of course, drugs. Many studies have shown that cocaine, among other substances, also activate this circuit.

Inevitably, this may lead you to think about the risks of the brains reward system. Addictions are the negative part of this wonderful adaptation mechanism.

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Treating The Addicted Brain And Addicted Person

How can we help control or reverse addictions? We do not yet have tools to erase the long-lasting brain changes that underlie addiction. The best pharmacological tools that we have now use a simple but effective strategy: an alternative drug is used to stimulate the brain on a low and steady level. This can fend off withdrawal, while providing a mild, almost subliminal, stimulation to the reward system, allowing the brain circuitry to readapt over time from the intense stimulation of daily use of addictive drugs to the very slight stimulation by steady, low levels of the medication. As the brain adapts back toward normality, an addict may gradually decrease the substitute drug until he becomes drug free. The narcotic drugs methadone and buprenorphine are safe and effective examples of such drugs. A recently approved drug called acamprosate uses a similar approach to treating alcoholism by providing a very mild sedative action that resembles alcohol. Is this just a chemical crutch that maintains the same brain changes caused by addiction? Perhaps, but by providing a minimal action it allows considerable normalization of brain function. Furthermore, these drugs allow people to reconnect with their families, hold jobs, and be productive members of society.

Natural Rewards And Brain

The stable thresholds for food, water, and brain-stimulation reward over months of testing indicate that stable inputs to dopamine neurons from the MFB and from PPT cholinergic neurons are more critical for these rewards than the highly plastic inputs from the forebrain via glutamate receptors. Many electrode sites in the lateral hypothalamus near the fornix also elicit feeding, as well as brain-stimulation reward. The stimulation-elicited feeding sites are a smaller subset of the more medial MFB sites. Thresholds for brain-stimulation reward in these medial MFB sites are strongly influenced by food-related signals, including food deprivation, and the feeding-inhibiting neuropeptides leptin and cholecystokinin. These results suggest that brain-stimulation reward can activate pathways important for food sensitivity, for food seeking, and for food-related rewards; besides, MFB stimulation activates many different groups of axons, and consequently involves many different motivational signals in the activation of rewarding effects, in all likelihood.

Anthony G. Phillips, in, 1979

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Tag: What Is The Brain Reward System

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.

Leo Tolstoy

My recent days of research and reading have led me to unpack the unexpectedly dense world of rewards and reward systems. Ive been trying to understand how our brains decide whats rewarding and what isnt. This has lead to me ask questions like

Why do we prefer donuts to spinach?

Why are some things more rewarding than others?

My last post was about the importance of understanding rewards and how rewards can trigger consummatory behaviors within us. This post is going to focus more on why we like some things more than others. Hopefully, with this understanding, we can hack our brains into actually enjoying things that are good for us and reduce the friction to creating a life by design.

A big thanks to Dr. Jud for helping me understand this.

In order to understand how our brains reward system works, we have to first look at habits. Ive written a few posts on habits, I recommend checking them out. They are Types of Habits and Designing Our Lives and Understanding Habits and The 1% Rule. Habits are fundamental to our lives and understanding how they work gives us the ability to design our lives.

But not everything we do is turned into a habit, only some are.

So how we do know which actions to turn into habits and which ones to not?

It all depends on how ~rewarding~ it is.




But it doesnt just stop there.

So how do we stop automatically consuming things?

Reinforcers Drives And Incentive Systems

Circuits and key regions involved in the brain

It is first helpful to consider how the field has moved conceptually in recent decades. Although emotions are unobservable, many objective expressions and behavioral, physiological, and neural responses to emotional stimuli have been selected by evolution. Studies of these objective responses in animals and humans provide valuable windows into brain reward function. Early drive theories held that hunger and thirst states motivated behavior directly as aversive drive states and that reinforcers simply reduced those states, strengthening preceding stimulusresponse habits or increasing the probability of operant response emission. Rewards are recognized now to act at least as importantly as hedonic incentives, causing neural representations that elicit motivation and goal pursuit, rather than as mere habit reinforcers. Physiological drive states nevertheless play important roles in incentive motivation, but primarily by increasing the perceived hedonic and incentive value of the corresponding reward; for example, food tastes better when hungry, drink when thirsty, and so on. Perhaps surprisingly, even drug reward and withdrawal appear to motivate drug-taking behavior primarily via incentive modulation principles rather than directly via simple aversive drives . Accordingly, it behooves affective neuroscientists to understand the neural basis of incentive properties of rewards.

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In What Situations Is The Reward System Activated

As we have already mentioned, the reward system is, in reality, an adaptive function. This makes it mainly related to the basic needs that allow us to survive individually and as a species.

That is, first, it takes care of aspects such as eating, drinking or having sex. The taste of food gives us pleasure, just like drinking water when we are thirsty or sex. Thus, learning and repetition of these actions are stimulated.

However, they are not the only functions that are motivated by this system. For example, we can experience pleasure with play, sports and, of course, with drugs. Many studies have shown that this circuit is activated by ingesting cocaine, among other substances.

This inevitably leads us to think about the risk that the reward system also presents. Addictions are the negative part of this wonderful adaptation mechanism.

How do drugs act on this system?

At first, the use of a drug, such as cocaine or heroin, is a voluntary act. Normally, it is the result of curiosity or the image we have created of that substance by society. However, simply taking it once makes our reward system active. An intense feeling of pleasure is generated that makes us, involuntarily, want to use that drug again.

In cases of strong addictions, the reward system can be altered. For example, people addicted to heroin hardly feel pleasure in other actions that are not derived from having taken this substance. To put it in some way, the rest of the satisfactions are turned off.

When Does The Brain Reward Us

With the fear being the most powerful stimuli, you may think what the purpose of all the positive things we have mentioned above is. The thing is motivation and well-being associated with a particular behavior help you develop yourself. The environment we live in is a system consisting of naturally well-placed situations and stimuli. So it is your job to make use of those factors for your benefit.

For instance, meeting up with a friend to have a cup of coffee after a stressful day would activate your brain reward system. You will also have a boost in the dopamine level when you have a glass of water during a hot day. The rewarding activities such as having a cup of coffee after a stressful day or drinking a glass of water to find some relief from the hot weather signal your neural structures to help you remain motivated to do whats necessary.

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When Our Brain Rewards Us

But what about pleasure? Whats the purpose of all the positive things we mentioned above? Believe it or not, the motivation and well-being you find when you behave in a certain way is also part of your development. Youre often surrounded by many different stimuli and situations. You need to prioritize them and concentrate on the things that can work to your own benefit.

For example, your brain will reward you when, after a stressful day at work, you decide to meet up with a special friend to chill out with a drink. Itll also give you a dose of dopamine when, in the middle of a hot morning, you go and get a glass of water to stay hydrated. The purpose of this neural structure, then, is to keep you motivated so you can carry out specific actions that it considers appropriate.

What Is The Role Of Dopamine In Addiction

Hacking Your Brainâs âReward Systemâ? to Change Habits

Experts are still studying exactly how dopamine, a neurotransmitter, works in the context of addiction. Many believe it trains your brain to avoid unpleasant experiences and seek out pleasurable ones. Its this role in reinforcing your brains quest for pleasure thats led many to associate dopamine with addiction.

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