- New research has uncovered hotspots in the brain that, when stimulated, enhance sensations of pleasure.
- These hedonic hotspots differ from the “reward circuit” previously thought to be the basis of good feelings—a pathway now believed to mediate desire more than enjoyment.
- Higher brain regions receive information from these pleasure and reward circuits to consciously represent the warm glow we associate with joy.
- A decoupling of the brain systems that generate “wanting” and “liking” may underlie addictive behavior—a clue that may lead to new treatments.
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In the 1950s psychiatrist Robert Heath of Tulane University launched a controversial program to surgically implant electrodes into the brains of patients institutionalized with epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression and other severe neurological conditions. His initial objective: to locate the biological seat of these disorders and, by artificially stimulating those regions, perhaps cure individuals of their disease.
According to Heath, the results were dramatic. Patients who were nearly catatonic with despair could be made to smile, converse, even giggle. But the relief was short-lived. When the stimulation ceased, the symptoms returned.
This article was originally published with the title The Joyful Mind.