On the Neurotransmitter Economy: The Fight for our Brains
Updated: Apr 29
Recently across my tik tok feed I came across a blurry video: A man eerily showing a low quality video of a presentation at the latest World Economic Forum in Davos. The subject was surrounding mind surveillance technology. After quick research I realized this was Nita Farhany, a Duke professor that is in fact fighting for cognitive liberty and the potential negative effects of neurotechnology on society.
While the video went viral, it made me think about the fact that while our minds cannot be read by our employers at our desks, they are affected by them. Thoughts are big business, and companies and employers from apparel brands to big food try to shift our mental states in order to work more and buy more products.
In college I, like many others, participated in a variety of research studies . I learned these brain scans weren’t done just to cure cancer, but companies used them to influence our decisions. From food to media, I came across studies by companies using EEG headbands and goggles to track my eyes darting around their new commercials. Neuroscience and Psychology have long been growing fields for businesses and neurotransmitters are a big part of it.
Dopamine and Serotonin are major neurotransmitters we use and Dopamine, being known for pleasure and reward, specifically is one that companies study to influence behavior.
When we see food in a commercial for example, it's like Super Mario seeing a coin , and when we jump to get that coin it triggers a dopamine release in our brains. While the car or food commercial allows us an easy win- when we get the tasty new special or the latest car, from our diet to our thoughts- we can actually rewire our brain to get dopamine in a healthy way, albeit a harder one.
When we have thoughts or emotions, regardless of them being read and surveilled, they trigger a cascade of activity in our brains, repeating paths and neural roads taken in the past. The thing is, we don’t actually obtain dopamine from the stimuli- but rather- from the anticipation of how good it will feel to eat that food, or watch the next Tik Tok video. The cyclical nature of dopamine interacts with our economic system perfectly, as capitalism encourages companies to spend millions on keeping these systems going. However we can choose not to. We can choose to define our values and goals for ourselves and trigger the dopamine release from what we want to achieve.
For example, a cowboy might gain a ton of dopamine from the anticipation of lassoing an animal but a city slicker wouldn’t because they don’t value that. The trick is to redefine what we value and enjoy the anticipation of reaching our goals- that is- enjoy the journey!
This makes me wonder why we don’t live in a Serotonin Economy as opposed to a Dopamine one. Living in a Serotonin Economy would encourage and reward feelings of peace, love, and kindness. It is clear our economic system values doing over being, and the effects of our economic system reverberate both out into the world and into our minds.