Monday, May 30, 2011

Did my dopamine do it?

When I wrote my last week’s blog, I did not expect that soon it would become so relevant. Not the main theme but a little example in it, the case of the influence of dopamine on risk taking and sexual behaviour. More and more it has become clear that a higher dopamine level in your brain stimulates both. The level can be increased by taking the drug for pleasure or for medical reasons, but also when one doesn’t take it there are differences in the dopamine levels in the brains of individual persons resulting, as is to be expected, in different levels of risk taking and sexuality. Since such a connection exists it is likely that both kinds of behaviour tend to go together.
The next cases are not meant for proving this theory and they cannot be more than tentative and suggestive, but take for instance Casanova, an adventurer from the 18th century known by his love affairs who succeeded to get important positions and to gain huge capitals but also lost them again and again. In Mozart’s version of Don Giovanni he had 1003 sweethearts in Spain and many in other countries, too, as we hear in the background music, but when admonished to improve his behaviour, he took the risk to turn a deaf ear to the warning and in the end he went to hell. Often we see that also men in high political power positions show risky sexual behaviour; risky not only because it can mean the end of marriage but also because they stake their high positions. There seems to be a relation: men at the top are sexual attractive (by the way, it seems that this is also true for women, although there are some differences), although it needs not automatically to be so that this leads to risky behaviour. Yet it often happens. Everybody knows the case of former US president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The French ex-president François Mitterand had a daughter in an extramarital relation and the Dutch prince Bernhard, father of the present Queen of the Netherlands, too. Examples abound actually on all levels of power. Now, maybe a new affair can be added, the case of DSK, former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund and possible presidential candidate in France, who has been accused of sexual assault of a chambermaid. The case is still sub judice, under judgement, so I leave it open whether he is guilty or not, but what is the point here is that cases like this do happen. If they all can be ascribed to high levels of dopamine in the brain (or to another drug, or to a genetic factor) then a question presents itself that I have asked already several times: who is responsible for the behaviour? Are we simply executors of our physical mechanism? In a certain sense we are, but that does not make a person not responsible or less responsible for what he (or she) does in a bigger degree  than for what he does, for instance, as the president of a country or as the managing director of an important financial institution.

No comments: