mat t hewwoodward.co.uk http://www.matthewwoodward.co.uk/tips/marketing-dopamine-control/
How We Use Dopamine To Control You – Learn How To ‘Beat’
A couple of weeks ago Matthew revealed he is moving to Costa Rica partly because he f elt that consumer
societies based on the pursuit of money and material goods may not be the answer to happiness and
I wanted to write a post exploring this a bit f urther and look at how so many of us are tricked into blindly
chasing down money and material goods.
It all starts with the release of a chemical into the brain called dopamine. Which part of our body’s natural
reward system that inf luences our thoughts and actions more than you realise.
As marketers we use dopamine to manipulate your attention and hijack your reward systems in a cunning plan
to separate you f rom your money.
Don’t think you are too smart to be tricked. It is a biological reaction that you have no control over.
Thinking you can beat it makes you the perf ect target.
Easier Than Ever Before
Thanks to the rapid growth of technology and social media, taking advantage of dopamine in marketing is
easier than ever bef ore.
Smartphones, laptops, PCs, game consoles, Facebook & Twitter etc provide us with the things we are
biologically programmed to need.
Like connecting with others socially, something that’s deeply rooted in humans. Our brains release the
dopamine reward every time we use them.
Tasty f ood samples as you enter a supermarket get your dopamine neurons f ired up, grabbing our attention,
leaving us vulnerable to temptation and impulsive behaviour.
Interestingly, dopamine neurons are less responsive to f amiliar rewards; hence the reason why Starbucks keep
changing up their menu and why McDonald’s keeps adding new f ood items.
Most f ood is manuf actured with the right combination of sugar, salt and f at to get our dopamine neurons
The scent marketing industry is built around using smell to release dopamine and inf luence peoples buying
If you take 2 groups of people and show the same product, the group subjected to the right scent in the air
perceive the same item as higher quality with a higher price tag.
Lotteries use dopamine in the f orm of “imagine what you could do with one million dollars” – They use your
own imagination to paint the picture and deliver dopamine.
The bells ringing, lights f lashing, half naked women waitresses, cheap booze and all-you-can-eat buf f ets are
also big dopamine spikers.
Stores put their most tempting items f ront and centre to get your dopamine levels up on arrival.
Gamif ication, another dopamine driven concept is the elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring,
leaderboards) to other areas of activity. Typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement
with a product or service.
For years, loyalty programmes have used gamif ication principles to encourage use and increase engagement.
What Is Dopamine Exactly?
Dopamine causes us to seek reward but not to reward us, it also causes f rustration and anxiety.
Marketers use this f eature best with “closing down specials”, “limited quantity deals” and events like black Friday.
Your primitive hunter/gatherer instinct kicks in with a dopamine rush and we head out to reduce this anxiety.
Matthew is a wise old (well young) bird and has a valid point in his reasoning to move away f rom
capitalist/consumerist society’s to somewhere like Costa Rica.
This can be clearly illustrated by the study of our brain chemistry – specif ically the neurotransmitter or brain
This brain chemical is responsible f or most social ills in capitalist countries.
When you read about “dopamine and the f alse promise of reward”, you will start to appreciate how useless the
quest f or pleasure, happiness and satisf action through the constant pursuit of rewards really is.
In essence your tricked into chasing your own tail in pursuit of happiness. Learn more about it here.
The Rise Of Neuromarketing
The rise of neuroscience and marketing or neuromarketing is not new, but we are getting better at it to control
It’s all about the promise of reward, linked to the release of dopamine inside the brain.
Not only does it propel us to f alsely desire something, but it’s so powerf ul we end up wanting things we don’t
want or have a use f or.
Ultimately it conf uses us into doing things we wouldn’t normally have done had our brains not been f looded
You Have Been Fooled
I’ll let you in to a secret, you’ve been duped.
The brain is not actually that interested in happiness – I can hear the gasps.
It is more occupied with preserving our primal survival instincts like passing on our genes and sourcing f ood or
taking on extra calories when the opportunity presents itself as insurance against f amine or shortage.
Dopamine not only makes up part of our reward system in the brain, but it also drives us to survive and excel.
In a cruel sort of way, the brain uses the “carrot and stick” approach to achieve its primary objective i.e. survival
of the species.
Confusing The “Promise of Reward” For Happiness
Consumerism has taken control of society so much that we have started to conf use the promise of reward
We treat ‘wanting’ something like it is a guarantee of happiness when we f inally get it.
For example if you want to buy a new car, most people will put themselves through great suf f ering either f rom
working or servicing debt to satisf y that urge and be happy.
But once you reward yourself with that car you’re not actually any happier and the cycle begins again with
We wrongly perceive that getting the objects we desire will make us happy. It is nearly impossible to separate
the “promise of reward” f rom whatever pleasure or payof f we are seeking.
The “promise of reward” is so powerf ul that we continue to pursue things that don’t make us happy and
consume things that bring us more misery than satisf action; how ironic eh!
This evolutionary survival mechanism that worked so ef f ectively f or our primal ancestors, has unf ortunately
f ound its way into our modern day lives.
The temptations of modern day convenience including online shopping, gambling, on demand sex and drugs,
24 hour supermarkets & f ast f ood that is specif ically engineered with the optimum combination of salt, sugar,
bad f ats and chemical additives are all designed to hijack the reward circuit in our brains.
But hold on a second, surely we have a divine right as humans to pursue and f eel happiness?
Of course we are wired to experience pleasure and satisf action, which do contribute to happiness – but only
when we consume in moderation and adopt meaningf ul lif estyles.
This is the “carrot and stick approach” the brain uses to keep you getting out of bed in the morning.
However when you exceed your brain’s “pleasure budget”, the quest f or happiness backf ires.
Your brain’s “pleasure budget” can be controlled by your lif estyle, which basically means you can be happy with
less or more meaningf ul things.
“Happy with less? It sounds too good to be true”, I hear you say; well it’s TRUE.
I Learnt The Hard Way
I only learnt this two years ago at the ripe old age of 48 when I started researching f or my f at loss book.
There is no better example of the relationship between “dopamine, the f alse promise” of reward and
happiness, than with f ood.
The obesity crisis is linked to this relationship, due to unlimited choice and temptation.
This has allowed our primal survival instinct to develop into an unhealthy relationship with f ood, overeating and
eating “f oods” that are not real f oods.
Unf ortunately these “f oods”, which were never intended to be consumed by humans, hijack the reward circuit in
the brain, f looding our systems with dopamine giving us that euphoric f eeling.
The same f eeling we also get f rom many other modern day temptations such as gambling, drugs, shopping,
alcohol, sex addiction & collecting material goods.
The only problem is that it is short lived.
Why? Because with every messenger chemical e.g. dopamine, insulin, leptin, serotonin, there is a receptor
waiting to pick up the message or command.
Over time the receptors become less receptive and build up a tolerance. So you need higher levels of dopamine
to achieve the same ef f ect.
The result of this is that the “high” is never the same as the f irst f ew times you consume something in high
quantities or with regularity leading to the “f alse promise of reward”.
It never delivers the same hit and so you are constantly looking to increase the consumption to experience that
initial euphoric f eeling.
Finally rewarded yourself with that new car? I bet you’ve already asked yourself which car your going to buy
Just ask the poor alcoholic or cocaine addict who constantly chases the “high”; it becomes elusive with
regularity and excess because the dopamine receptors have down regulated or became resistant to the signal.
Is There Any Hope?
Don’t f ret; there is hope my f riends. As a matter of f act, we have a chunk of brain at the f ront of the head (see
diagram below) called the pre-f rontal or f rontal cortex (in blue), which has developed over time to help us adapt
to the challenges of modern day living.
This includes the ability to exercise willpower when we need to make important decisions that will protect us
f rom harm or help us stay on the path to reach our long term goals.
For example, resist that chocolate cake in order to lose the excess f at and live a healthier, happier and longer
This part of you recognises that the cake threatens your long term goals and so it will do whatever it can to
deal with this threat by helping to control intense emotions and impulses.
This is your willpower instinct.
The problem is modern day living; alcohol, drugs, stress, sleep deprivation actually impair this sensitive part of
the brain to the extent where it mimics actual brain damage.
The ‘damage’ is only temporary but it impairs your ability to think rationally and make the correct decisions to
reach your long term goals long enough f or marketers to separate you f rom your money.
The Paradox Of Reward
There is nothing wrong with desire until we mistake the wanting f or happiness; a lif e without wants may not
require as much self -control, but it’s also a lif e not worth living.
The “promise of reward” doesn’t guarantee happiness, but no “promise of reward” guarantees unhappiness;
listen to the “promise of reward” and we give in to temptation.
Without the “promise of reward”, we have no motivation. To this dilemma, there is no easy answer.
It’s clear that we need the “promise of reward” to keep us interested and engaged in lif e. If we are lucky, our
reward systems won’t stop serving us in this way, but hopef ully they won’t turn against us either.
We live in a world of technology, advertising and 24 hour opportunities that leave us always wanting and rarely
If we are to have any self -control, we need to separate the real rewards that give our lives meaning f rom the
f alse rewards that keep us distracted and addicted. Learning to make this distinction may be the best we can
This isn’t always easy, but understanding what’s happening in the brain can make it a little easier and we may
f ind just enough clarity in moments of temptation to not believe the brain’s “big lie”.
Desire is the brain’s strategy f or action. As we have seen, it can be both a threat to self -control and a source
When dopamine points us to temptation, we must distinguish wanting f rom happiness.
In the end, desire is neither good nor bad, what matters is where we let it point us and whether we have the
wisdom to know when to f ollow.
How To Beat The System
For all the poor souls caught up in this mass consumerism, have no f ear, there is help at hand!
The best ways to achieve a stable level of happiness is to balance the amount of dopamine and dopamine
Sounds tricky but this is easily achieved with a combination of good lif estyle habits-
Limiting sugars and grains, eat good f ats, meats, oily and other f ish, plenty green leaf y vegetables, berry
f ruits, nuts, seeds, minimise or eliminate processed junk f oods, including most packaged f oods and ready
Proper exercise including high intensity like weights or sports as well as casual exercise like walking in greenery,
which is great f or enhancing mood and willpower.
Make sure you get enough sleep at night. If you constantly go to bed late and get up early, you are doomed
and much more susceptible.
Focus On What Matters
Pursuit all of your interests, hobbies and meaningf ul relationships with f riends, f amily and spirituality.
This ensures a balance of dopamine and dopamine receptors in concert with other hormones and
neurotransmitters, which is what the body strives f or.
It’s that simple f olks! Governments should teach this in schools, but they won’t, why?
Capitalist governments rely on mass consumerism or consumption to grow the economy, which decides how
important your country is. Apparently.
I sincerely hope you have f ound this article enlightening and empowering on your journey to f ind more meaning
and purpose in your busy, modern lives.
“The Greatest Wealth is Health” – Virgil
Thanks f or sticking around and f eel f ree to check out my website and my blog!
Handing Over To Matt…
I thought I would experiment with a dif f erent type of guest post that introduces you to the science of what
goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in our brains.
If you would like to learn more about the psychological and physiological side of marketing and how we can
apply that to the web let me know!
Kudos to Clark f or putting such an awesome article together! Although I might have added a f ew images here
Matt’s Bonus Tip
Clark missed out an important tip that anyone who is currently putting themselves through hell under f alse
promise of happiness needs to know about.
It’s simple, cost ef f ective and delivers the same chemical reward.
Just have a wank.
You just ‘beat’ the system.