Each January 1, many of us resolve to change. We will give up smoking. We will eat healthier. We will be more patient. However by January 15, we’ve chucked it all out the window. But all is not lost.
For risk-takers and impulsive people, New Year’s resolutions often include being more careful, spending more frugally and cutting back on dangerous behavior, such as drug use. But new research finds that these individuals, whom psychologists call novelty seekers, face an uphill battle in keeping their New Year’s resolutions due to the way their brains process dopamine.
Addiction researcher John O?Neill says, “Do you really want to make the change? We often resolve to change something that we truly have no intention of changing,” says O?Neill. “This can serve to be counterproductive and provide us a sense of failure. It is important to consider what we need to do to change and evaluate how we will do it.”
His advice? Keep resolutions to a minimum, and develop a strategy for those you really want to keep. Simply saying you want to do something is not enough. Consider the strategy and outline the process of change that is simple and realistic.Research reveals that novelty seekers have less of a particular type of dopamine receptor, which may lead them to seek out novel and exciting experiences?such as spending lavishly, taking risks and partying like there’s no tomorrow.
The neurotransmitter dopamine is produced by a select group of cells in the brain. These dopamine-producing cells have receptors called autoreceptors that help limit dopamine release when these cells are stimulated. Psychologist David Zald says, “We’ve found that the density of these dopamine autoreceptors is inversely related to an individual’s interest in and desire for novel experiences. The fewer available dopamine autoreceptors an individual has, the less they are able to regulate how much dopamine is released when these cells are engaged. Because of this, novelty and other potentially rewarding experiences that normally induce dopamine release will produce greater dopamine release in these individuals.”
Dopamine has long been known to play an important role in how we experience rewards from a variety of natural sources, including food and sex, as well as from drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine. Previous research has shown that individuals differ in both their number of dopamine receptors and the amount of dopamine they produce, and that these differences may play a critical role in addiction.
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