The stage is set to have a number of boxes, all equal dimensions, scattered about to the stage right. To the right of the stage is a table with TWENTY BANANAS. The SCIENTIST takes his mark next to this table.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you here tonight, for tonight we delve into the core of our processes and personality! Tonight we delve into the very brain!
I have one question for you all, a profound question that will be the basis of tonight’s experiment.
Can you imagine a pleasure so intense, that you would give up your job, your friends, your family, even your physical health to acquire it?
It may seem impossible, but many people find themselves in this very situation. Some of whom don’t even realise it, most of whom never intended it.
Tonight we will be looking to see how this could be possible. In life every action is driven by a motive, and every motive contains an element of reward. With this in mind, allow me to present to you one theory which may help explain the mysteries of addictive behaviour.
TEST SUBJECT enters the stage, SCIENTIST makes notes.
I’d like to introduce to you tonight’s Test Subject. Good evening.
So tell me, what are your primary motives in life? What are your long term goals?
Well… personally I’m looking to have a loving family, you know, like the ones on TV. A handsome husband, healthy children and all that. I’d also like a decent job, you know, for security reasons, to provide for my family.
Very good! And you understand that these are all long term goals, they wont appear over night!
well yeah… It’s gonna be really hard work, you know. I gonna have to concentrate at school to get a good job, but as long as I’m working my way I’ll be happy.
I’m quite an out going girl so I think I can find a good man, I just need to be wise about what I do, you know, how I approach it. I don’t want to get that part wrong!
It’s not gonna be easy, I’m gonna have to stay focused, but… but I know it’s all going to be worth it in the end!
I’m glad to hear it! Tonight’s experiment involves just that!
Before you are a number of boxes, each labeled differently, each representing an element of your future. What I would like you to do is use them to build up a Wall of Hopes and Dreams, in other words your life in order to achieve your future goals.
Now every thing you do is going to have a cost of some kind. Here we have twenty BANANAS, they represent your finite resources; time, money, physicality and so on. In order to build up the wall, you must use at least one of your resources per box.
Do you understand?
So I put a banana in a box and build a wall to achieve all of my future hopes and dreams?
Well when you put it like that it sounds preposterous! But yes. You have one minute by my watch. Are you ready? Then we shall begin!
TEST SUBJECT starts to build the wall with relative ease. Some of the boxes are heavier than others. During this minute the SCIENTIST continues.
Ladies and Gentlemen. Please consider our Test Subject’s efforts. This is not an easy task, some blocks present more of a challenge than others, demanding more effort and resources, and during this delicate stage of a human’s life; there will be hurt and there will be heartache.
Already? Well done! Would you like to talk us through what you have done?
TEST SUBJECT (pointing to the boxes)
So I didn’t do too well at school, but I found that I really loved animals, so I found an apprenticeship in Animal Care and got a job working with animals every day! I love it!
Also I went through a couple of relationships, and some of them really didn’t work out well, you know? But then I met Drew at a pottery call, and things went really well! And here we got married and now we have our third baby on it’s way! I’m hoping is a boy this time.
Excellent! And how do you feel?
Yeah, I just feel really happy at the moment, you now, things have gone really well. I went through some rough spots, but I think they just shaped me into a stronger person.
Well congratulations! You see, Ladies and Gentlemen, our Test Subject is receiving what is known as her Future Reward.
You see, in order for the brain to encourage a certain behaviour, it has to reward that behaviour, Much like me giving this bar of chocolate to you, madam, in thanks for offering to do all of tonight’s washing up. The chocolate makes madam happy, therefore offering to do the washing up is a good behaviour and so one to be repeated. This is known as Positive Reinforcement.
And I’m only joking, madam, the chocolate is mine!
The brain has no chocolate. What it does have is a chemical called Dopamine. To encourage a certain behaviour, the brain releases this chemical which is then detected by another part of the brain made up of many tiny receptors which we will refer to as the ‘Pleasure Receptors’.
The dopamine is detected, the brain is happy, and so is the person. In our Test Subject’s case this Future Reward is a sense of fulfilment, which was ultimately the motive for all of her actions.
Allow us, then, to try this experiment again, though this time we will introduce a potential addictive behaviour. Please welcome on stage Daisy the Dancing Monkey.
DAISY is lead on to the stage right by a stage hand as a second stage hand dismantles the constructed wall. DAISY does nothing.
So as we begin the experiment again, allow me to remind you that the Wall of Hopes and Dreams must be completed within the minute, But I must also remind you that Dancing Monkeys really do like bananas.
Are we ready? Then begin.
TEST SUBJECT looks at DAISY and the BANANAS, clearly distracted, but nevertheless sets out to build the wall. Throughout this she, is continually distracted by the still DAISY, and after building the blocks halfway, she gives in to curiosity and gives ONE BANANA to DAISY, who puts it aside and does a little dance. TEST SUBJECT’s reaction is quite extreme. DAISY stops dancing, and TEST SUBJECT turns to finish the wall, as she does, the time runs out. As the SCIENTIST talks, Stage Hands reset the stage.
TEST SUBJECT (exited)
Did you see the monkey? It was dancing! That was good, that!
I did notice the monkey, however, I also notice that the wall is not quite complete. Would you like to talk us through this?
Well, I didnt do well at school, but got on my apprenticeship. At this point I had met a couple of fellas, but they didn’t work out and I was kinda upset at that. But then I found the dancing monkey and it was great! I mean, it wasn’t a big deal, you know, I was just dabbling in the dancing monkey. Then the time was almost up and I had to rush to finish the rest. But I didn’t complete the wall, which I’m kinda annoyed about. But the Monkey was good.
Thank you. You see, Ladies and Gentlemen, instead of just the promise of a Future Reward, we have now introduced an Immediate reward.
This particular Immediate Reward triggered a short, sharp release of dopamine in our Test Subject, causing a quick yet intense feeling of elation.
Studies show that when given the option, most people would take an Immediate Reward of little value over a Future Reward of greater worth.
An example being if I were to offer you, sir, this single chocolate bar right now, or ten chocolate bars in a years time, which would you choose?
I’m sorry, sir, it was only an example, the chocolate is mine.
Most people would take the immediately gratifying option; one that they are certain to receive rather than having to wait.
And this is for good cause! Immediate Rewards motivate us to eat when we are hungry, they encourage procreation and other behaviours vital to the continuation of the species.
In this particular example, however, the Immediate Reward was simply a distraction and therefore not vital in any way.
Now that our Test Subject has experienced the Immediate Reward, let us conduct the experiment again in order to investigate the effects of addictive behaviours.
Are you ready, my dear? You may begin.
TEST SUBJECT focuses herself on the wall, but it isn’t long before she hands ONE BANANA to DAISY and watches in anticipation. DAISY receives the BANANA, but shakes her head and motions for another. TEST SUBJECT quickly gives her a second BANANA and DAISY dances. TEST SUBJECT has a similar response, only less intense, and once the dance has finished, she instantly gives her TWO BANANAS. DAISY shakes her head and demands another. The TEST SUBJECT gives in. DAISY dances again, TEST SUBJECT’s response is lessened further, but time is up just as she starts. TEST SUBJECT is disappointed by not seeing the whole dance. SCIENTIST studies the wall.
Well this is a poor show. A poor show indeed! Can you talk us through what happened?
Well… I liked it when the monkey danced before and I wanted to see it again. It cost me a little more, but it was good, you know, great! But not as good as the first time, so I gave the monkey more bananas and then the time ran out.
And how do you feel? You failed to complete the wall.
What? Oh! The wall! oh. Yeah, I kinda forgot about that.
Thank you. Ladies and Gentlemen, as in the previous experiment, our Test Subject experienced a short, sharp release of dopamine upon seeing the monkey dance.
This in itself is not a particularly bad thing, though continual releases of this kind can have a damaging effect on the Pleasure Receptors.
Imagine, if you will, that this chocolate bar represents the receptors. Frequent dopamine release in such a way is like me taking a bite. Such a continual abuse would mean that I will have significantly less chocolate than when I started.
We can see this clearly in the two CAT scans shown above. On the left, the Control’s Pleasure Receptors are lit up with activity. However, the Addict’s brain on the right is dimmer. Not only does this show a reduction in Receptors, but this in turn shows that the Addicts brain is no longer physically able to experience as much enjoyment from the stimulus as the Control.
As the Pleasure Receptors are damaged, they are less effective, and so our Test Subject feed them more and more dopamine to feel satisfied.
And so now, not only has she lost sight of the Future Reward, but the Immediate Reward is having less effect and at a higher cost. This, in turn, leads to repeated use.
To really see the extent to which addiction can effect behaviour, we will try the experiment one last time.
So, miss, you have one minute to build the wall. Focus now, and begin.
TEST SUBJECT struggles for a moment, then grabs all of the BANANAS from the table and sits in front of DAISY. He gives her more BANANAS and she dances. This continues.
Ah, just as I had thought. The behaviour has now turned to dependency. There are now far less receptors available and our Test Subject’s brain craves the dopamine it is certain to receive whilst watching Daisy dance.
You may also notice that the price she is paying is increasing, yet the pleasure she seems to be experiencing is still decreasing, almost to the point where she no longer outwardly shows any enjoyment at all.
Test Subject occasionally looks longingly to the wall.
What makes things worse is that the part of the brain responsible for feeling this pleasure is also vital for us to exercise self control. Though she longs to build up the wall and receive the Future Reward, she cannot physically tear herself away from the dancing monkey.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my firm belief that no addict, be that an addict of drugs, food, fitness, sex, anything, no addict wants to be an addict.
Lights go down and TEST SUBJECT and DAISY leave the stage.
And so to conclude, every day we work towards our Future Rewards, our hopes and dreams, but there are plenty of things out there that can – and will – distract us if we let them.
It is easy to take comfort in the things that bring us pleasure in an immediate way. These can be useful and at times extremely necessary, but the abuse and over-use of them is what leads to addictive behaviour.
The more dependent we become on these behavioural patterns, the less we are able to focus on the long term. Instead we become trapped by a decreasing ability to exercise self control. We become focused on finding that particular Immediate Reward, sometimes to the extent where we no longer care what it takes to obtain it. This process is what is scientifically accepted as addictive behaviour.
We hope that this experiment has educated you and opened your eyes to the science behind addictive behaviours. We also hope that this will allow you all, in the future, to better support those around you who are struggling with all kinds of addictions… especially an addiction to a dancing monkey.
Thank you for listening.