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The Science Of Pleasure And Distraction

Why is it that we LOVE being distracted so much? No matter what we know “up here”, we’re always on the lookout for something to distract us and divert us from tough tasks that we aren’t used to….

Well, don’t feel down on yourself. There are actually some serious scientific reasons why we’re driven to love distraction. If you’ve got a science loving brain, it might help for you to understand why your body reacts the way it does so that you can fight these feelings, watch them come and go, and stay on the things that will make you really happy in the long run.

As humans, we treat distractions as a little reward for doing something we don’t enjoy.

Most animal psychology uses overt actions – things like pressing levers – as measures for this kind of pleasure. For example, if you want to see how a reward affects a rat, you put it in a box with a lever and give it food each time it presses the lever.

Sure enough, the rat will learn to press the lever once it learns that this produces food. From this, the neuroscientists have been able to show that short term pleasure and long term happiness are governed by separate circuits in the brain.

The pleasure system is based in the subcortex, that part of our brain that is most similar to other species. In fact if you we’re electrically shocked in this area, you’d feel a rush of pleasure!

Typically, a living human can’t do this, but we can kind of tickle these areas of the brain with drugs like heroin. Obviously, not a recommended course of action!

Now, pleasure and distraction aren’t always the same. You can be distracted by something mundane and not really feel a rush of gratitude. When an addict burns out their pleasure sensors, they can feel a lot of WANT without feeling happiness.

How Desire Works

Desire, the impulse that leads us to distraction, happens in nearby, but distinct, circuits. These are more widely spread around the subcortex than the pleasure circuits, and use a different chemical messenger system, one based around a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Surprisingly, it is this circuit rather than the one for liking which seems to play a primary role in addiction. For addicts a key aspect of their condition is the way in which people, situations and things associated with drug taking become reminders of the drug that are impossible to ignore.

The reason desire and pleasure circuits are so near each other is that they normally work closely together, ensuring you want what you like. But in addiction, the theory goes, the circuits can become uncoupled, so that you get extreme wanting without a corresponding increase in pleasure. Matching this, addicts are notable for enjoying the thing they are addicted to less than non-addicts.

This is the opposite of most activities, where people who do the most are also the ones who enjoy it the most. Most activities except another Christmas tradition, watching television, where you see the same pattern as with drug addictions – people who watch the most enjoy it the least.

What’s It All Mean I Hear You Ask?

Ask yourself if you’re suffering from distraction burnout – you feel the need to be distracted, but you aren’t really feeling any pleasure when it happens. This stinks, and it’s a real sign you need to enter “distraction rehab” and rekindle your sense of focus!

Till next time so keep the focus.


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