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We’re all Dopamine Junkies

Dopamine is a neuro-transmitter that plays a pivotal role in controlling arousal. It is associated with reward and a person can be induced to a heightened state of arousal when they know that they are going to receive a reward for doing something. Much like a dog looks forward to getting a treat for doing the right thing. It is strongly associated with activity within the hippocampus in the formation and retrieval of memory. I guess when you put these few things together you can see why rewarding a young child for positive behaviour is such a powerful tool: they do the right thing once, they get rewarded, they have an increase in dopamine, they want to be rewarded again, so they do the right thing again to get the reward and are aware they will get the reward so therefore are in a heightened state of arousal when performing that activity. This brings focussed attention to the task, which is another effect of dopamine on the pre-frontal and frontal cortex. The child experiences this cycle for while the task is novel, that is, they are still learning the task, and therefore dopamine is still being produced. As dopamine is involved in the experiencing of pleasure, this is probably why young children appear to be exuberant when at play. Play is implicated in the release of dopamine and from my understanding now of the different effects of dopamine on the brain and therefore behaviour, I conclude that young children are actually dopamine junkies.


Putting the brakes on, in time.

Thoughts and ideasIn my last blog I talked about how the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), the thinking, rational, problem-solving part of the brain, is also responsible for “putting the brakes on” inappropriate behaviour. And so, you have your PFC to thank for stopping you from telling your boss what you really think of her. However, under duress, when the emotional parts of your brain are strongly engaged, your PFC doesn’t always step in in time to stop you from blurting out that insult.

So what can be done to reign in those emotional responses that you might regret the next day (er…minute)? Here’s one method:

“Use your words”; something you might tell a 3-year-old struggling with emotional control may also have a surprising effect on dampening emotional responses in adults. Researchers have found that when confronted with an emotional individual, simply labelling the emotional state of that person lessens the individual’s own emotional reaction to that individual. In fact, the part of the PFC thought by some researchers to be crucial in self-regulation shows increased activation during this task compared to when the emotional individual is just observed, and, crucially, the emotional centre of the brain, the amygdala, shows reduced activity during this task.

Now, I’m not saying you should verbally label your aggressor’s emotional state. Saying, “you’re angry” to someone who’s angry probably isn’t going to dispel any of their anger. But labelling your own emotions could just save the day. It’s also no good to beat yourself up over the fact that you’re feeling fearful or angry yourself (“damn it, I’m angry again”). The point of the task is to label how you’re feeling in a detached, non-judgemental way (“oh, I’m feeling angry”).

It’s one thing to be able to label your emotions after the event, and an entirely different thing to be able, in the heat of the moment, to automatically label how you’re feeling. My advice is to practise, practise, practise. The best chance you have of pulling this off is by becoming good at acknowledging (non-judgementally) your emotions and thoughts on a daily basis. Then forgive yourself if it doesn’t come easy in the heat of the moment. It’s only human to feel!

If you encounter persistent behavioural problems in your work-place, contact us at Beyond IQ.


Bullying in the workplace – destroys team building efforts

Unnecessary moneyAren’t bullies just people who feel inferior to others?

The very simple answer is ‘yes’ they bully others to put them down so they can feel ‘bigger’, ‘better’, ‘smarter’, ‘stronger’ all the ‘er’ words you can imagine.

The more complicated answer is ‘NO’. Workplace bullies generally already have an over-inflated ego and sense of their capabilities that have been developed over many years of bullying others. They generally hold positions of power within organisations and don’t need to put you down or ‘keep you in your place’ in order to feel good about themselves. Remember that positions of power within organisations do not necessarily mean a position of authority, such as a management position.

Beyond IQ can help you prevent bullying in your workplace. Click here and get the ball rolling today because Beyond IQ deals with behavioural change, not just the symptoms!