I’ve been stuck in what seems like an infinite dopamine loop. I can’t even remember when it began, but I know when it expanded to take up my whole life like some kind of blob… only I don’t have a cast of exciting young people. Well, maybe I do since I am a teacher and father, but, still, there’s no Steve McQueen in my life. How is that even fair?
Hi. My name is Jack and I’m a binge-watcher. I’ve been binge-watching TV shows. It started small at first. Only an episode or two at a time and only during the weekends. You know. For fun. Then it started to be a couple a times a week in the evenings… and before you know it, I’m watching four five episodes a night every night!
Now, I’m looking for excuses to get begin watching. I’ll only watch an episode during dinner, I tell myself. Then it’s, Well, I may as well watch one when I’m cleaning up. And after that, it is One more won’t hurt! Pretty soon it’s eleven o’clock and I’m falling asleep in front of the computer… and I’ve gotten nothing done!
The Revenge of Dopamine
It took me a while to realize that it’s the dopamine that’s got me hooked. There’s an odd satisfaction that comes from watching an episode, a season, a series. You haven’t really accomplished anything, but it is as satisfying as having actually accomplished something, maybe even more.
At the end of an episode, I get that feeling of just one more. I want to watch the next installment. It’s maddening. The end of the show starts coming up. You ever notice that you can always tell when the episode is starting to wrap up? And, if the episode ends on a cliffhanger, ferget about it; the next one is a gimme. You gotsta watch that shit. You gotsta KNOW.
The Mesolimbic Dopamine Reward System
The end of the thing activates the liking-reward centers of the brain. Regular readers know that this is the mesolimbic dopamine reward system. Mesolimbic because it is in the middle of the limbic system. The limbic system being the emotional center of the brain or the lizard brain. It connects stuff together and motivates you to do it in one way or another. Either through habit and automaticity or through emotion, liking, fearing, or angering. Dopamine because it uses the neurotransmitter dopamine to connect the neurons in the circuit together. So, if you take a drug that mimics dopamine, it floods the brain with dopamine, which activates all the dopamine receptors and gets those circuits going, meaning the reward circuit, so like cocaine is addicting. Reward because when you feel like you did good, this is the area of the brain that is being stimulated.
We like rewards. After we get one reward, we want another one. When pressing a button provides an electrical stimulation of a rat brain, rats will press that sucker up to 7,500 times an hour (ten times per minute) and do in preference to food or sex.
This mesolimbic dopamine reward system is some powerful stuff. That’s why Fox News, TV shows, electronic games, and social media use strategies to activate it and keep you watching, playing, or participating. It’s called persuasive design. And, man has it ever designed my persuasion. It’s got all that persuasion by the short, and curlies and it ain’t lettin’ go.
I kept thinking that when I got to the end of a season, it could end. You know because if you get to a natural breaking point, it is easier to change habits. #ScienceFact. It’s why New Year’s Resolutions are so popular… and seldom work? Oh, never mind. Those junctures do make for places that are easier to change habits, though.
But, persuasive design, cliffhanger, and you’re on the hook for another season! Darn you BJ Fogg! Darn you to heck!
By the end of the series, though, you have that post-football season depression. It’s become such a habit this endless obsessive watching that you restlessly search the streaming sites for the next series.
Of course, if there were something happening in our world that was worth reporting on like the end of Roe v. Wade, Putin’s war in Ukraine, or the continuing adventures of the 6 January Commission, I’d be able to write insightful posts applying psychology to all these situations. But, no we live in a boring world where nothing is really happening, so I just roll over and pull the comforting quilt of binge-watching made for binge-watching TV series tight to my chin and order more deliver.
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Categories: Mesolimbic Dopamine System