We need (to control) Dopamine

Tu Pham
4 min readOct 5, 2019


Illustration: James Melaugh/The Observer

What is dopamine?

Following to psychologytoday.com: “Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters — a chemical that ferries information between neurons.” Dopamine is the transporter playing a crucial role in controlling our feelings and decision.

Dopamine affects our feeling.

As you may know, we feel satisfied when having a good meals, making achievements, using drugs, etc. because dopamine is produced.

Dopamine not only contributes to possitive but also negative feelings. Jonah Lehner — the author of the book named “How we decide” has made many experiments showing that when we are lied, the brain cells producing dopamine will stop doing that which adjusts our expectation on that event so that we will not be duped, never again, in the same situation.

Let’s say you have an appointment with your friends at 7pm. Then you arrive at the place at 7:15pm (shamefully I do this most of the time =))) and nobody is here. You make a call, receive the answer from your peers: “we are nearly there, just give us 5 minutes”. Then 30 mins later they appear with boring excuses. Will you believe that next time they will be on time? 99.99% not because your brain cells work well, your expectation has been adjusted. That’s why people said “Being lied for the first time is her/his fault, but being lied again by the same person is your fault” (literally your brain cells’ fault) =)).

Moreover, dopamine helps us memorize things.

Many researches prove that a certain level of dopamine promotes processing of spatial short-term memory by increasing memory-related activity in the primate prefrontal cortex. This benefit of dopamine means so much to us. As what Dan Ariely (a psychologist) has suggested, if we need to commit to any goal/ target/ task we are scared of, we should combine that suffering experiences with the favorite ones (which definitely produce dopamine making us satisfied). Then dopamine is the key factor reminding us good feelings and lessening those bad impressions whenever we recall that experience motivating us to keep going.

For me, it does work. I definitely, extremely, specially do not like running, however I know it’s good for me — not only my body but also my brain (I think my next topic will be how exercise improves our brain hihi). Then I applied the “dopamine model” to my running. I always buy me some fresh fruits, cashew which I really like after running because I know that next time, when I think of running, there is not only sweat, tiredness, boredom but the joy of good food. Thanks to dopamine, my running experience is not that bad. Because of dopamine’s effect on the memory, the scarcity of it causes Parkinson — happens when 80% of brain cells producing dopamine dies.

There are many other benefits of dopamine on us such as attention, cognition, movement (when our brain is lacking of dopamine, our movement will be delayed and uncoordinated. On the flip side, when there is an excess of dopamine, we tend to make unnecessary movements), social functioning, ect. You can find these thing online, here is my recommendation.

So much beneficial, but dopamine is also so harmful at the same time. It can cause addiction. There are many Parkinson patients in the treatment get addicted to gambling. It’s not their fault, it’s the bad effect of the surge of dopamine in their brain. It also makes us “blind” when we abuse them (what we can read everyday on newspaper about famous figures’ scandal).

Dopamine is a culprit causing the consumerism.

Jonah Lehner analyzes our shopping habit with 3 brain’s areas included:

  • When we see an interesting product, NaCC (accumbens nucleus) is stimulated. The intensity of this stimulation and the amount of dopamine released is proportionate.
  • At the same time, Insula lobe produces negative feeling when we see that item’s price.
  • Prefrontal cortex is the judge considering should we buy the product or not. If the excitement caused by dopamine is greater than the negative feeling produced, we will buy the product, otherwise, we will not.

Consumerism is extremely harmful, in my opinion. Therefore, I always try my best to not waste money in what I don’t really need. Nevertheless, it’s easier said than done. Our NaCC is a bitch having crush on almost everything: a new dress, iPhone, watch, ect. This analysis can help me to magnify the effect that insula lobe causes (by calculating how many days can I live with that amount of money, or delaying the shopping until I almost forget it, etc.) to stop that bitch, persuade myself to not make wrong decision.

Inconclusion, everything has 2 sides, so does dopamine. Our mission is enhancing the good and minimizing the bad one, as most as possible.


  • How we decide — Jonah Lehner
  • Dopamine Functions- News medical: news-medical.net/health/Dopamine-Functions.aspx