See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 2

New Pleasure Circuit Found in the Brain

A new understanding of how the brain generates pleasure could lead to better treatment of addiction and depression—and even to a new science of happiness

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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.

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