Reward System Theories

Wired just put out a phenomenal article titled why do we like the taste of protein?.  The article examines a nutritional reward mechanism that we have which exists beyond the mouth. According to the article, mutant mice which were unable to parse the tastant sucrose learned to like it and prefer it to plain water as a response to nutritional information learned by the body much further along the digestive path.

This post flavor reward mechanism could be very powerful, but an interesting question is how does this reward mechanism get overridden by some peoples’ craving for dryness?

(also are there any other reward mechanisms we have yet to map?)

A dry wine has less nutritional merits than a sweet wine and yet many people end up preferring dryness.  Therefore I think we might also find a reward from attentional distractors.

The pleasure response to attentional distractors (i.e. things like intense acidity or bitterness) could eventually override nutritional rewards facilitating the acquiring of acquired tastes.

This definitely expands the theory of acquired tastes I’ve tried to develop in past posts. To accrue an acquired taste, one reward system gets overridden by another.  This might also only be possible if certain priorities get rearranged.  Does mental health, when afflicted with stress and anxiety, get more priority than nutrition and our need for calories?

Another great tidbit from the article is the ancient cross modal analogy from Democritus in the 4th century b.c.

“Sweet things, according to Democritus, were “round and large in their atoms,” while “the astringently sour is that which is large in its atoms but rough, angular and not spherical.”  Saltiness was caused by isosceles atoms, while bitterness was “spherical, smooth, scalence and small.” -Democritus

Wow. I had never seen that before but those analogies look very similar to ones I use and very similar to the shape tasting syneasthete in Richard Cytowic’s The Man Who Tasted Shapes.

More to ponder! next book up, Compass of Pleasure

[One of the big additions I've made to the my reward system theory is the idea that food & drink with its ability to often defy language helps us take a break from language, and therefore lessen anxiety and find repose.

I think I only got half way through Compass of Pleasure before I put it down. I should probably take another look and see if they mention anything related to language & non-language.]

5 thoughts on “Reward System Theories

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