Target Health Blog

Dopamine Labs May Know How To Break Your Addiction to Technology (a movement to align technology with our humanity)

April 17, 2017


Ball-and-stick model of the dopamine molecule, a neurotransmitter that affects the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Color code: Carbon, C: black; Hydrogen, H: white; Oxygen, O: red; Nitrogen, N: blue. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter – a chemical released by 1) ___ (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity. Other brain dopamine pathways are involved in motor 2) ___ and in controlling the release of various hormones. These pathways and cell groups form a dopamine system which is neuromodulatory. Outside the central nervous system, dopamine functions primarily as a local chemical messenger. In blood vessels, it inhibits norepinephrine release and acts as a vasodilator (at normal concentrations); in the kidneys, it increases sodium excretion and urine output; in the pancreas, it reduces 3) ___ production; in the digestive system, it reduces gastrointestinal motility and protects intestinal mucosa; and in the immune system, it reduces the activity of lymphocytes. With the exception of the blood vessels, dopamine in each of these peripheral systems is synthesized locally and exerts its effects near the cells that release it.


Company Overview


Dopamine Labs, Inc. develops and delivers an application programming interface (API) that enables developers to reinforce users for their applications. Its API enables an application to hack user engagement and retention using models from neuroscience to tell that application when to reinforce a user at that moment. Addiction to technology can be like a drug 4) ___ .It’s not an accident – it’s by design. Dopamine Labs Inc., thought leaders in the mind hijacking industry, wants to equip you with the tools to reclaim your brain. Based out of Southern California, the team of five self-described coders, machine learners, brain architects, designers and hustlers, push persuasive computing? – ?technology that shapes our behavior – ?to the limits. The company provides two apps at the opposite ends of the mind hijacking spectrum: On one end is Space, an app that helps curb compulsive checking – ?like mindlessly opening and scrolling through Facebook? – ?by delaying instant 5) ___. On the other end is Dopamine, an app that helps keep users hooked. It plugs a line of code into an existing app and doles out rewards at just the scientifically-proven right moment to encourage habit building and keep you coming back for more. If Dopamine is turning the mind hijacking knob up to eleven, Space equips people with the capacity to turn it down and regain control over their 6) ___. The apps from Dopamine Labs fulfill dual needs: Their niche knowledge of neuroscience and neuroinformatics (how the brain makes decisions) is lucrative on the marketing side. Companies, eager for this intel, want to know how to better hone their users’ behaviors and persuade them to stay engaged.


Recent research suggests that being constantly plugged in? – ?especially when multitasking on different gadgets, or toggling between apps – ?has a profound impact on our 7) ___. A Stanford University study published last year found that chronic media multitaskers had a harder time remembering both distant and recent events. Dopamine, on the other hand, can help app-makers vie for our already scattered attention span, while the Space app is a way of making behaviors, like automatically logging on to Instagram, more mindful. As Ramsay Brown, COO and founder of Dopamine Labs, tells Thrive Global, We built our Space app because, in the bigger picture of what can be built here in persuasive technology, we can use the same techniques, the machine learning and neuroscience, to help people start behaviors that they want to start?but also to help people sustain habits, decrease behaviors they don’t like, and help people stop things entirely. With the Space version of Snapchat, for instance, you’ll get a breathing prompt before you can enter the app. The fancy neuroscience term for this is adaptive stimulus devaluation, which basically means making something desirable (like compulsively checking Snapchat) less appealing by delaying gratification. But Space isn’t about punishing or shaming you for using your favorite apps. It’s about giving you the opportunity to consider what you really want and giving you a choice to disconnect. Creating a time delay between you and the prize makes the prize less valuable, and it quells the itch we’re scratching with social media. The crux, of course, is that itch we’re scratching is a temporary fix: odds are we’re scrolling through social 8) ___ because we’re bored or stressed, but with so many little gratification escape pods, as Brown calls them, we’re able to avoid thinking about what we really need. In other words, we get to ignore “that thing that just itched in my soul, Brown says.


Dopamine Labs occupies a unique, and morally hazy, role at such opposite poles of the brain-hacking spectrum. But in launching both Dopamine and Space, Brown explains that the company can set the tone for how this technology can be used, rather than tell people how to use it. We’re not interested as much in being the thought police and telling people what they should want, or what kinds of brain they should aspire to create and live inside, as much as arming them with the tools that enable them to do that just as well. Brown argues that transparency around mind hijacking, and understanding how this is already happening to us all of the time, is essential to creating more mindful relationships with technology. Even knowing that the brain is incredibly malleable, Brown, who studied neuroscience at the University of Southern California (where he met future Dopamine Labs co-founder T. Dalton Combs, then studying neuroeconomics), was surprised at how we can’t resist our favorite apps. He tells TG he knew the raw science of this, but “the skeptic in me said No, no, what about freedom and dignity and autonomy and self-determination? Our proclivity to constantly check social media isn’t because of weak willpower, Brown says. [Our brains are] changing per the design?of whatever data team at these companies are desiring you to change into. So they’re using mathematical and artificial 9) ___ techniques to control, very carefully, in an experimental manner, when and how you’re shown different things, when and how you’re given your likes.


In the digital world, we’re actually not the customer, Brown says. “We don’t pay for Facebook. We don’t pay for Twitter or Instagram. If you’re not paying for it, you are not the customer, he says. You’re the goods being sold. How do you like that? Repeating for emphasis: Humans are the goods being sold. Big brands are the customers while our attention span, and our consumer preferences, are the things to be auctioned off. Technology is changing faster than our brains can keep up. Being transparent about how 10) ___ changes the brain, and using tools that can help redirect this, is the first step in chipping away at unhealthy habits, ones that aren’t even of our own creation. Dopamine and Space apps are intended to help catalyze our brains’ evolution. The very same things that are troubling, like the ways technology already hijacks our brains – or how malleable our brains are to these suggestions – gives Brown hope. Technology is not a tool for crushing the human spirit, Brown says, but for lifting it up.


Overview by Dopamine Labs


Dopamine Labs


Short review of dopamine and serotonin


TED Talk by former Google ethicist: How better tech could protect us from distraction


Short review of how Tech becomes addictive


ANSWERS: 1) neurons; 2) control; 3) insulin; 4) addiction; 5) gratification; 6) minds; 7) brains; 8) media; 9) intelligence; 10) technology

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