More on anticipation

Anticipation linked to deepest emotional level

There has been something nagging at the back of my mind since I posted recently on anticipation. Something neurological, calling to me from my distant days as an undergrad psychologist... As luck would have it, I stumbled over the answer in Temple Grandin's unique "Animals in Translation". Animal behaviour expert Temple points out that:

"Researchers have identified ... four primal emotions, all of which mature not long after an animal is born. They are:
1. Rage
2. Prey chase drive
3. Fear
4. Curiosity/interest/anticipation"

Leading neuropsychologist Jakk Panksepp has mapped the last of these - the curiosity/interest/anticipation complex - to a particular part of the brain he calls the SEEKING (yes, allcaps) circuit. This particular chunk of grey matter sits in the hypothalamus, and psychologists used to call it the pleasure centre. It's the bit of the brain that people tickle when they take cocaine, nicotine or other stimulants. It's also the part that gets busy when we are intensely interested, highly engaged, or generally high on life.

Now the crucial bit. Studies have shown that this chunk of the brain starts firing when the subject sees evidence that a goal is nearby, but stops firing when the goal comes into sight. In animal lunchtime terms, the "pleasure centre" is going ding-a-ling during the search for food, but it shuts up as soon as the food is found. It is the search - or the anticipation - that feels good!

This does not mean that the fun stops at the gate to Disneyland, but it means that the anticipatory enjoyment we experience before arrival is truly happening at a deeper level to the - presumable more social and cerebral - joys awaiting beyond.


Anonymous said...

Well, it seems quite logical that the "ding-a-ling" of the SEEK circuit has to stop once the dog has found its food :)

The pleasure is then replaced by a real sensory experience :P~~~

Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Thanks Vladimir!

My point was, though, that the pleasure we have later is less "visceral" than the anticipation. It happens at a higher level than the anticipation did - and does NOT involve the "pleasure centre".

That is why I think anticipation is so special.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. So it is anticipation that drives the activity. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. But the anticipation itself is pleasurable. Anticipation is a reward in itself.
(Carole King must have studied the same psychology course!)

So we love the build up to the joke as much as we love the laugh, or perhaps even more.

In experience terms, if we anticipate something negative or irritating, that is also probably bugging us at a deeper level. Such as air travel, as you note next.