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Proc Biol Sci. 2017 May 17;284(1854). pii: 20162837. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2837.

Pleasure junkies all around! Why it matters and why 'the arts' might be the answer: a biopsychological perspective.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of London, London, UK
Autism Research Group, Department of Psychology, University of London, London, UK.


Today's society is pleasure seeking. We expect to obtain pleasurable experiences fast and easily. We are used to hyper-palatable foods and drinks, and we can get pornography, games and gadgets whenever we want them.


with this type of pleasure-maximizing choice behaviour we may be turning ourselves into mindless pleasure junkies, handing over our free will for the next dopamine shoot. Pleasure-only activities are fun. In excess, however, such activities might have negative effects on our biopsychological health: they provoke a change in the neural mechanisms underlying choice behaviour. Choice behaviour becomes biased towards short-term pleasure-maximizing goals, just as in the addicted brain (modulated by the amygdala, posterior ventromedial prefrontal cortex' (VMPFC), striatum, nucleus accumbens; 'A-system') and away from long-term prosperity and general well-being maximizing objectives (normally ensured by the insula, anterior VMPFC, hippocampus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC); 'I-system'). This paper outlines, first, what 'pleasure' is and what 'pleasure-only' activities are (e.g. social media engagement, hyper-palatable eating). Second, an account is given of the type of action that might aid to maintain the neural systems underlying choice behaviour balanced. Finally, it is proposed that engagement with the arts might be an activity with the potential to foster healthy choice behaviour-and not be just for pleasure. The evidence in this rather new field of research is still piecemeal and inconclusive. This review aims to motivate targeted research in this domain.


amygdala; empathy; insula; pleasure; the arts

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