The brain is a very complicated organ, controlling every function of the human body. Yes, even your pleasure is controlled by this wonderful organ. There are of course different kinds of pleasure, which are handled by various areas of the brain. However, the primary area of the brain that is considered to be the “pleasure center” lies within the limbic system. The connection between this area of the brain and pleasure was discovered initially in the 1950s, when scientists discovered accidentally that placing an electrode in a rat’s limbic system caused pleasure in the rat when it was turned on. Subsequent experiments proved that a rat will press a lever to cause this type of stimulation to the point where they do almost nothing else, until they succumb to exhaustion.
Components of the Limbic System
This complex area of the brain is located under the cerebrum, on both sides of the thalamus. It is a combination of several brain regions, including the hippocampus and hypothalamus. The hypothalamus regulates the body’s response to a wide range of situations, including pleasure levels and sexual sensations. The input that the hypothalamus gets from the rest of the limbic system is used to regulate sexuality and eating, among other things. Pleasure is seen by the body as a reward, and by experiencing pleasure, a person is motivated to do things again and again. This is no doubt why actions such as sex and eating which are critical to propagation and survival are associated strongly with pleasure. Because this area of the brain regulates so many of the body’s functions, injury to one or more of the components of the limbic system such as the hypothalamus or hippocampus often results in the person becoming institutionalized. In fact, serious injury to this area can often result in death.
Other Areas Associated with Pleasure
The nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental areas, which are associated with the limbic system, are also instrumental in the body’s perception of pleasure. The ventral tegmental area activates the nucleus accumbens when the body’s behavior is satisfying its sexual or survival-related needs, resulting in a feeling of pleasure. The ventral tegmental area is located in the brain stem, and includes pathways for dopamine, which is a biochemical that is associated with pleasure. When this area of the brain becomes damaged, the person often has problems with achieving any pleasure in life. Many people who have damage to this area of their brain tend to turn to drugs, alcohol, overeating, and gambling in an attempt to feel pleasure. The prefrontal cortex also has links to the limbic system. Although this area of the brain has many other functions, such as enabling a person to make future plans, it also has dopamine pathways, and therefore is also involved in the body’s perception of pleasure. If a person suffers damage to the prefrontal cortex, it is likely that they will have problems with decision-making skills.
Limbic System Problems
When the pleasure center of the brain does not function properly, there are many problems that can occur. Instead of properly perceiving and processing pleasurable thoughts and sensations, the person can experience irritability, moodiness, and negative thoughts. Lack of motivation is often experienced, and the person may tend to seek isolation and avoid contact with others. Sleep and appetite problems can occur, and there is usually a change in the person’s sexual responses. Problems with the limbic system can often cause clinical depression. Additionally, problems with drug and alcohol addiction commonly occur in individuals who have a malfunctioning limbic system, as they try to find other ways to feel the pleasure they are missing.