The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search For Happiness

The Biology of Money

How does the reward system make us susceptible to gambling?

There is evidence that gambling activates the dopaminergic reward system and that people suffering from pathological gambling have abnormalities in this system. Jonah Lehrer relates one particularly telling example involving a woman who developed Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is caused by cell death of the dopamine neurons in the basal ganglia. The treatment usually involves medication that increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. When this woman was treated with a dopamine agonist (a medication that increases dopamine activity), her Parkinson’s drastically improved. Unfortunately, she also suddenly developed a serious gambling condition, which ultimately robbed her of her money, her house, and her marriage. When the medication was discontinued, her gambling problem disappeared.


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