Andrew Huberman is an American neuroscientist and tenured associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine who has made contributions to the brain development, brain plasticity, and neural regeneration and repair fields. . . Huberman has been credited with coining the term “Non-Sleep Deep Rest” (NSDR), referring to practices that place the brain and body into shallow sleep to accelerate neuroplasticity and help offset mental and physical fatigue. (Source: Wikipedia)
Credit to the frequent interviews he gives and his numerous media appearances, you can add “public intellectual” to his resume.
Today, I’ve transcribed a clip in which Huberman addresses the effect that pornography, and other artificially high dopamine-releasing activities, have on the brain. Huberman argues that these activities lower the baseline of dopamine and have a harmful effect on craving, motivation, desire and pleasure. Pornography, in particular, “can negatively shape real-world romantic and sexual interactions” — a fact that is now taken for granted — and is “a serious concern,” independent of people’s moral stance on the issue.
Check out the complete video and transcript below, which has garnered a few million views within a few weeks of its release!
Again, any activity that evokes a lot of dopamine release will make it harder to achieve the same level, and certainly a greater level, of dopamine through a subsequent interaction. So, yes, indeed, many people are addicted to pornography and yes, indeed, many people who regularly indulge in pornography experience challenges in real world romantic interactions.Andrew Huberman
Transcript of Neuroscientist: This Habit Destroys “Man Brain”
It should become obvious why things like pornography – not just the accessibility of pornography, but the intensity of pornography – can negatively shape real-world romantic and sexual interactions. This is a serious concern. The discussion is happening now. The underlying neurobiological mechanisms we now understand. And this isn’t to pass judgment on whether or not people like or don’t like pornography – that’s an ethical discussion and it’s a moral discussion that has to be decided for each individual by virtue of age, etc.
Again, any activity that evokes a lot of dopamine release will make it harder to achieve the same level, and certainly a greater level, of dopamine through a subsequent interaction. So, yes, indeed, many people are addicted to pornography and yes, indeed, many people who regularly indulge in pornography experience challenges in real world romantic interactions.
Fortunately, most people do not experience or pursue enormous increases in dopamine leading to these severe drops in baseline. Many people do, however, and that’s what we call addiction – when somebody pursues a drug or an activity that leads to huge increase in dopamine. And now you understand that afterward the baseline in dopamine drops because of depletion of dopamine, the readily releasable pool — dopamine is literally not around to be released, and so people feel pretty lousy.
And many people make the mistake of then going and pursuing the dopamine-evoking, the dopamine-releasing activity, thinking, mistakenly, that it’s going to bring up their baseline. It’s going to give them their peak again. Not only does it not give them a peak, their baseline gets lower and lower because they’re depleting dopamine more and more and more. And we’ve seen this over and over again when people get addicted to something – then they’re not achieving much pleasure at all.
You can see this with video games. People will play a video game. They love it. It’s super exciting to them. And then they’ll keep playing and playing and playing, and either one of two things happens, typically both. First of all, we say addiction is a progressive narrowing of the things that bring you pleasure. So oftentimes what will happen is the person only has excitement and can achieve dopamine release to the same extent doing that behavior and not other behaviors. And so they start losing interest in school. They start losing interest in relationships. They start losing interest in fitness and well-being. It depletes their life.
And eventually what typically happens is they will stop getting dopamine release from that activity, as well. And then they drop into a pretty serious depression. And this can get very severe, and people have committed suicide from these sorts of patterns of activity.
But what about the more typical scenario? What about the scenario of somebody who’s really good at working during the week. They exercise during the week. They drink on the weekends. Well, that person is only consuming alcohol maybe one or two nights a week, but oftentimes that same person will be spiking their dopamine with food during the middle of the week. Now, we all have to eat, and it’s nice to eat foods we enjoy. I certainly do that. I love food, in fact.
But let’s say they’re eating foods that really evoke a lot of dopamine release in the middle of the week. They’re drinking one or two days on the weekend. They are one of these work-hard play-hard types. So they’re swimming a couple miles in the ocean in the middle of the week, as well. They’re going out dancing once on the weekend. Sounds like a pretty balanced life, as I describe it.
Well, here’s the problem. The problem is that dopamine is not just evoked by one of these activities. Dopamine is evoked by all of these activities. And dopamine is one currency of craving and motivation and desire and pleasure. There’s only one currency. So even though, if you look at the activities, you’d say “Well, it’s just on the weekends.” Or “This thing is only a couple times a week.” If you looked at dopamine simply as a function, a chemical function of peaks and baseline, it might make sense why this person after several years of work-hard play-hard would say “Yeah, you know, I’m feeling kind of burnt out. I’m just not feeling like I had the same energy years ago.”
And of course there are age-related reasons why people can experience drops in energy. But oftentimes what’s happening is not some sort of depletion in cellular metabolism that’s related to aging. What’s happening is they’re spiking their dopamine through so many different activities throughout the week that their baseline is progressively dropping. And in this case it can be very subtle. It can be very very subtle. And that’s actually a very sinister function of dopamine, we could say. Which is that it can often drop in imperceptible ways, but then once it reaches a threshold of low dopamine, you just feel like “Hmm, we can’t really get pleasure from anything anymore. What used to work doesn’t work anymore.”
So it starts to look like the more severe addictions, or the more acute addictions, to things like cocaine and amphetamine, which leads to big increases, big spikes in dopamine, and then these very severe drops in the baseline. Now, of course, we all should engage in activities that we enjoy. I certainly do, everybody should. A huge part of life is pursuing activities and things that we enjoy.
The key thing is to understand this relationship between the peaks and the baseline. And to understand how they influence one another. Because once you do that, you can make really good choices in the short run and in the long run to maintain your level of dopamine baseline, maybe even raise that level of dopamine baseline, and still get those peaks. And still achieve those feelings of elevated motivation, elevated desire and craving. Because, again, those peaks and having a sufficiently healthy high-level of dopamine baseline are what drove the evolution of our species and they’re really what drive the evolution of anyone’s life progression, too. So they’re a good thing.
Dopamine is a good thing.