Science sometimes confirms what we knew all along:
A new study by researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City suggests a biological explanation for why certain people tend to live life on the edge â€” it involves the neurotransmitter dopamine, the brain’s feel-good chemical.
Dopamine is responsible for making us feel satisfied after a filling meal, happy when our favorite football team wins, or really happy when we use stimulating drugs like amphetamines or cocaine, which can artificially squeeze more dopamine out of the nerve cells in our brain. It’s also responsible for the high we feel when we do something daring, like skiing down a double black diamond slope or skydiving out of a plane. In the risk taker’s brain, researchers report in the Journal of Neuroscience, there appear to be fewer dopamine-inhibiting receptors â€” meaning that daredevils’ brains are more saturated with the chemical, predisposing them to keep taking risks and chasing the next high: driving too fast, drinking too much, overspending or even taking drugs.
The findings support Zald’s theory that people who take risks get an unusually big hit of dopamine each time they have a novel experience, because their brains are not able to inhibit the neurotransmitter adequately. That blast makes them feel good, so they keep returning for the rush from similarly risky or new behaviors, just like the addict seeking the next high.
In a society where there are essentially few actual risks, this means we become addicted to a search for novel behavior.
We need a frontier.