The brain – and here I am talking about the physical entity in our heads – is constructed for survival of the organism.
I have written a book about this, The Branded Mind, which is really about the applications of neuroscience to marketing (neuro-marketing). In this I explain the concepts I am writing about here in much more detail.
To fulfil this function of survival the brain really monitors the organism and its environment. This happens very mechanistic.
- The state of the body – does it need fuel (hunger), rest (sleep), liquids (thirst) etc. this is mostly done via hormones (you have more than 28) which indicate to the hypothalamus that the body is in imbalance;
- The state of the environment – this is done by the senses. In conjunction with the senses this is really our emotions. When there is danger we experience the emotion of fright (and fear) and when there is something that might be positive for our bodily state we experience attraction. Emotions cause motivations: toward or away from something in our environment;
- The state of the Mind itself – this is generally called MOODS. Our brain tries to control the state of our mind.
The state of our mind is basically summarised as being our LEVEL of AROUSAL.
When we are asleep our arousal levels are close to zero. When we are relaxed our levels of arousal are low. When we are excited our levels of arousal are high.
The brain cannot be at a low level of arousal for too long, nor can it be at levels of high arousal for too long. The brain will try to engender calmness when the level of arousal has been at a high level for too long. Similarly the brain will try to induce increased arousal when the brain has been to calm for too long.
We do not really talk about brain’s level of arousal in common speak. However, we talk about MOOD. Every word that we use to describe a mood has an underlying component of actually describing our level of arousal.
We use many products – brands – to influence our level of arousal. Most of our activities are aimed at influencing our level of arousal.
Some people, when they wake up, drink coffee, others do exercises, some just walk, etc. all of these are aimed at increasing our levels of arousal (mood). Some go for a jog thereafter, again an acitivty that increases our level of arousal.
We use music to increase or decrease our level of arousal.
IT is especially dopamine and serotonin (neurotransmitters) that affect our levels of arousal. These are the neurotransmitters that nicotine (and other drugs) is implicated in.
Nicotine has two effects on arousal – it can either increase or it can decrease. This is not dissimilar from other drugs.
I was made aware of this when I admitted my smoking habit to a psychologist and he said: ‘So you SELF-MEDICATE?’.
Listening to smokers you can hear them say:
“I cannot think before my cigarette of the day.”
“This is a job well done, I need a reward, let’s go and have a cigarette.”
“I love my first cigarette of the day with a cup of coffee.”
“I really relax after a hard day with a beer and a fag.”
These type of statements give a the real clue as to why people smoke: they are using the cigarettes as a form of mood-control.
As such the nicotine habit is nothing more than a mood inducing device. Just like chocolates, a good meal, jogging, driving a sport car, listening to music, having a relaxing conversation with a friend, etc.
What is amazing is that this is neuroscientific evidence. It is well known for many decades. Yet, it is not mentioned in any anti-smoking strategy.
The PRESCRIPTION drug for mood control, that is seen as the wonder drug of the previous century is PROZAC.
As part of this project I would like to find out what the usage level of prescriptive mood control drug usage is. Reputedly there are very few people in the higher income classes of the developed countries that are not drinking some pill that is designed to assist their mood control.
In other words: they have substituted self-medication with prescription drugs.
These demographics – higher income wealthy nation – is also the only demographic that is reported to show a decreased cigarette usage.