A neuroscientist discusses a few ways that pleasure shapes us and makes life more enjoyable.
We talked with University of Oxford neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach, author of the upcoming book The Pleasure Center, about his revolutionary research and our constant craving to feel good.
Can pleasure be used as medicine? We can implant electrodes in the brain of a person in pain. When we stimulate the right spots, almost magically the pain goes away. The relief is very pleasurable. This can help people with depression too.
Can I get an electrode just for fun? It wouldn't work. The brain balances itself, and while you can help restore that balance temporarily, you can't permanently swing it one way or the other. That's why many people, even those who aren't getting any treatment, will probably come out of depression within a year.
What do people find most pleasurable in their daily lives? Sex. But No. 2 is being with friends. Most everything we find pleasurable, including eating and drinking, is so much better when doing it with someone else.
Can you help us cure addictions such as overeating? It hasn't been tested yet, but deep-brain electrodes may help restore the balance of selective satiety mechanisms in the brain-the signals that tell us enough is enough. People who are obese may not have the selective satiation that thin people do.
Why do we sometimes feel guilty about indulging in pleasure? Guilt is like a built-in stop valve. If we overindulge in one thing, such as sex, food, or drugs, it can become an addiction that we feed to the exclusion of the thing that gives us the most long-term pleasure-other people.
How can we live a more pleasurable life? There's no magic here. Enjoy your family and friends, and work less. The simplest pleasures really are the best ones.