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Dopamine impacts your willingness to work

If you're reading this on one of those slick, white pieces of computer technology that are designed by a company who take great pleasure in marketing themselves as the counterculture, ex-hippy, LSD-taking, altogether more creative, artistic and goshdarned nicer alternative to the faceless corporate baddies on the other side of the tech wall, how nice for you.

Biochemical triggers to make people more willing to work? Lovely stuff. If you're managing a few tens of thousands of sweatshop slaves, slaves who have an irritating tendency to throw themselves off roofs in high-publicity suicide pacts every time you crack the whip a little harder – this could be just the news you need. Of course, being that western medical ethics prevent greedy companies from actually mucking about with the biochemistry of their workers' brains, it's all a bit theoretical though. You'd never get away with it over here.

But they're not manufactured here though, are they?  

A new brain imaging study that has found an individual's willingness to work hard to earn money is strongly influenced by the chemistry in three specific areas of the brain. In addition to shedding new light on how the brain works.

The study was performed by a team of Vanderbilt scientists including post-doctoral student Michael Treadway and Professor of Psychology David Zald.

Using a brain mapping technique called positron emission tomography (PETscan), the researchers found that "go-getters" who are willing to work hard for rewards had higher release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in areas of the brain known to play an important role in reward and motivation, the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

On the other hand, "slackers" who are less willing to work hard for a reward had high dopamine levels in another brain area that plays a role in emotion and risk perception, the anterior insula.

The study was conducted with 25 healthy volunteers (52 percent female) ranging in age from 18 to 29. To determine their willingness to work for a monetary reward, the participants were asked to perform a button-pushing task. First, they were asked to select either an easy or a hard button-pushing task.

Easy tasks earned $1 while the reward for hard tasks ranged up to $4. Once they made their selection, they were told they had a high, medium or low probability of getting the reward. Individual tasks lasted for about 30 seconds and participants were asked to perform them repeatedly for about 20 minutes.

"At this point, we don't have any data proving that this 20-minute snippet of behavior corresponds to an individual's long-term achievement," said Zald, "but if it does measure a trait variable such as an individual's willingness to expend effort to obtain long-term goals, it will be extremely valuable."

Source: Vanderbilt University


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