Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Low serotonin levels can seriously deplete your bank account !

Low serotonin levels can seriously deplete your bank account !

Data source:

" Neuropsychopharmacology " , vol 28 . p153 as described in "NewScientist" , 31/7/2004 , p35 .


Robert Rogers of the University of Oxford determined that human decision-making about the cost involved by a certain decision involves the neurotransmitter noradrenaline , while the benefit evaluation involves serotonin . In other words ,two separate path ways .

Cost Evaluation : By reducing norandrenaline levels with 80 mg of propranol (a beta blocker) , they found that if the stake (ie risk) is high , the human subjects became less able to discriminate between large and small losses .

Benefit Evaluation : reducing the serotonin level reduces the capability to discriminate between large and small rewards , regardless of the risk level .

What does this mean?

First , examine the possibility grid :

LowCost-LowReward LowCost-HighReward

HighCost-LowReward HighCost-HighReward

If our hypothetical individual's neurotransmitters are at optimum values , the LowCost-HighReward choice is made .

If his noradrenaline levels are ok , but the serotonin levels low (depression ,learned helplessness , etc) , then he can still tell lowCost from highCost , but he cannot distinguish between the rewards of the option . He thus has (say) a 50% chance of choosing the LowCost-LowReward .

If his noradrenaline levels are low ,and the serotonin levels low , then he cannot tell lowCost from highCost , and he cannot distinguish between the rewards of the option . He thus has (say) a 25% chance of choosing the HighCost-LowReward . (Quelle Horreur!)

Real life involves decisions like this about once a second : ie shall I smile or frown , speak or remain silent , bet or pass , etc,etc,etc .

The value of the decisions are also a cascade : previous decisions influence the value of present options . (ie a smile followed by a frown does not have the same effect of a frown followed by a smile)

The Divergence from the optimal LowCost-HighReward series of decisions
grows exponentially . The more times he tries to rethink it while his neurotransmitters are out of kilter , the bigger chance of a bad error .

Saturation effects:

The evaluation of values depends on the varying concentrations of the neurotransmitters .

Saturation of the receptor sites is as bad as deprivation .


Do not make Cost-Benefit decisions while depressed , drunk ,hungover , under Prozac , cocaine,certain beta-blockers,any high or low .

If you have to make a decision under these circumstances , do it once and once only . Involve chance (flip a coin : your chances cannot be worse.)

Dithering and Predators:

Very low or high serotonin levels means that the individual makes decisions that normal people see as stupid (ie sub-optimal) . Of course , your friendly politician , general ,salesman , loanshark and other predators are there to enable this condition and to influence the decision .

Where there is no such outside interference , the individual dithers between the options in a highly stressed state , further depleting serotonin levels until comatose .

Breaking the impasse:

Breaking something , is , by definition , a non-linear thing . The only non-linearity above is that low levels of norandrenaline only has an effect on the decisionmaking process if high risk is involved .

The beauty here is that the low levels of norandrenaline subject cannot tell the difference between cost in a computer game and risking his life savings .

(If you think I am joking , substitute poker for computer above) .

The subject can then be conditioned into various Cost-Benefit configurations by manipulating the norandrenaline levels and computer game awards (remember the effect is non-linear and we can manipulate the "normal" point . )

This can be a powerful therapy , or a mind conditioner . As usual , a two-edged sword . Weak forms have already evolved in casinos .



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