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Rewarding Thoughts

March 7, 2018

Neuroscientists observe how dopamine reinforces new learning.



The rewards of learning. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If we do something and it feels good, we tend to do it again– whether it’s petting a dog or eating a potato chip. Now in the journal Science, neuroscientist Rui Costa from Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute reports that the same is true of thinking.

RUI COSTA (Zuckerman Institute, Columbia University):

If you think of something, and that feels good, you think it again.


His team demonstrated this in mice, using a computer to translate their brain activity into musical notes. When the mice randomly hit upon a particular set of notes, they got a little dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical. Soon, they began firing that pattern of brain cells over and over, strengthening it. Costa says human learning is mediated by dopamine and similar pattern reinforcement. The work could lead to new learning strategies, and treatments for addictions and obsessive behaviors. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon