Monday, December 9, 2013

Temporarily Forgetting what it is You are Excited About

As a kid one of the most interesting psychological phenomena to me was being really excited about something, and then temporarily forgetting what it was that I was excited about. When this happens you may still feel excited, but it is bitter sweet, because you can’t remember what you were planning or anticipating. The “trigger” or the “object” of excitement is displaced. I would know that my current thoughts were too mundane to warrant so much excitement so something enticing must have recently crossed my mind. I remember being frustrated, asking myself: “wait a minute, what the heck was I so happy about.” Sometimes, if it took a while to remember, the excitement would fade. Other times I would remember what it was and I would remain excited.  This still happens to me at times today. We can tell that our dopaminergic neurons are firing away, but the trigger for them can be temporarily misplaced because of a shift in our attention.  Lucky for us, the dopamine system of the brain is designed to keep representations about the object of excitement active and details about potential rewards in mind.  As a kid I was puzzled, how can my brain still be excited about something, even though I cannot remember what it is? These two systems (attention and reward) interact extensively but can become uncoupled. The experience taught me to question whether it was “me” that was excited or some mechanism in my brain. Of course, we identify with our personal desires and even with the feeling of “wanting” so I think there is a dissociation of “self” here. 

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