Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's

Two-Faced Dopamine, and the Difference Between Wanting and Liking


This video, which a friend pointed out to me on the Guardian’s Web site, is quite intriguing. Its direct relevance to Parkinson’s is minimal, but it does discuss the role of dopamine in the brain and the psychological and sociological results of an excess thereof. Too much dopamine is, of course, precisely the opposite problem to that posed by Parkinson’s. Too much dopamine promotes addictive behaviour (such as that caused by some drugs used to treat Parkinson’s) and may also be at the root of problems such as mania and schizophrenia.

Source: The Newton Channel via The Guardian

Although dopamine does control our wanting, it does not seem to affect our liking. This apparently counterintuitive lack of connection seems to have surprised the scientists. The issue seems to be that people and animals will, if depleted of dopamine, not make as much effort to obtain a pleasurable outcome (a hedonistic reward) – but, on obtaining the reward, they still enjoy it just as much. The difference is, essentially, motivational.

However…  should the distinction be such a big surprise? Why do we have two different terms in the first place?

And why does popular culture so frequently refer to this type of difference? Here are some lyrical examples – not quite want and like (I couldn’t think of any that precise) – more need and want, love and like, even want, need and love. But it’s the same type of distinction.

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time

Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”

I am very very much in like with you
I hope that it’s enough ’cause it’s all I can do

Julia Fordham, “Porcelain”

I want you (I want you)
I need you (I need you)
But-there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you
Now don’t be sad (Don’t be sad)
‘Cause two out of three ain’t bad

Meatloaf, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”


2 thoughts on “Two-Faced Dopamine, and the Difference Between Wanting and Liking

  1. I read the article. It was interesting to learn that studies had proven this distinction between wanting and liking and a correlation with the amount of dopamine produced in the brain.

    If people with Parkinson’s are dopamine depleted and science can help understand how to regulate dopamine production rather than relying on drugs that artificially increase dopamine levels that has to be good!

    • People with Parkinson’s are dopamine depleted – it is one of the things that we do know about the condition. All of the drug treatments attempt to redress this in some way:

      • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors like Rasagiline are intended to maximise the use of what dopmamine there is by preventing it being broken down by Monoamine Oxidase.
      • Dopamine Agonists like Ropinirole stand in for dopamine by activating the dopamine receptors in the brain.
      • Leva-Dopa is a means of introducing a precursor of dopamine into the brain.

      Regulating dopamine production, on the other hand, is more or less the holy grail for research into Parkinson’s. If only it were a matter of wanting it … !

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