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Would You Care for a Dopamine Tickle, Sir?

Not keen on your partners Jazz music? Zap your brain with magnetic pulses and you’ll be willing to pay to listen, for a while at least.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation appears to be the latest craze in neuroscientist circles around the globe. It is non-invasive, and its effects are relatively temporary, allowing scientists to monkey about with synaptic pathways to generate surprising results. With the long term aim of being able to re-programme negative behaviour patterns, there has been some pretty exciting studies conducted of late.

Professor Robert Zattore, from McGill University, Canada, has been concentrating his efforts on the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain known for generating pleasure chemicals such as dopamine. Using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, these pleasure centres can be excited or inhibited while exposing the volunteer to different conditions.

Zattore chose to explore the intensity with which his volunteers liked or disliked music tracks. Understandably, the excitatory dopamine response, corresponded with the volunteer reporting a liking for the music track, while inhibition rendered them less enamoured.

I understand how neuroscientists would be enthralled by this, fairly obvious discovery. The applications could lead to the development of very lucrative devices, sold with a promise of treating depression, addiction, obesity or other disorders linked to the reward centres of the brain. My concern is that since magnetic pulse therapy can only generate a temporary fix, patients would become addicted to the devices artificially rewarding brains with dopamine. It would not be a cure as such, more like a non-toxic treatment.

Moreover, I can see a time when the brain is so flooded with dopamine, or similar chemicals, that neural circuitry is rendered immune to its effects, creating emotional zombies. Shouldn’t the root causes of disorders be the primary focus rather than suppressing the symptoms? Is this just another quest for research revenue and profit margins? Answers on a postcard to…

Sam Nash is the author of the sci-fi conspiracy thriller, The Aurora Mandate. Release date TBA. You can find her at or on Twitter @samnashauthor or

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