Tapping Other Types Of Rewards


Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer. Radcliffe fellow and HMS professor Ann-Christine Duhaime, whose new project explores how inherent brain drive and reward systems may influence behaviors affecting the environment and global warming.

One possible breakthrough approach to countering the causes of climate change is to frame the issue as an epic scale equivalent to what we do to improve our diets, or to address conspicuous consumption of other varieties. If a neurosurgeon has an idea that I can relate to, that gives some hope after an otherwise kind of gloomy week of news. Thanks to the Harvard Gazette for this one:

Turning the brain green

Neurosurgeon wants to unleash our anti-hoarding tendencies

By Colleen Walsh, Harvard Staff Writer

Could a better understanding of the brain’s reward system — a network fine-tuned over millions of years and laser-focused on survival — help mankind skirt environmental disaster?

Ann-Christine Duhaime thinks it’s entirely possible. As part of her 2015-2016 Radcliffe fellowship, the Harvard Medical School professor and neurosurgeon studied whether the brain’s inherited drive for stuff and stimulation is making it hard for humans to get by with less, and harming the planet in the process. Her research suggests the answer is yes, and that curbing consumption will require tapping other types of rewards the brain craves.

“Our brain evolved with this wonderful system, but now it doesn’t know when to stop,” said Duhaime, Harvard’s Nicholas T. Zervas Professor of Neurosurgery, during a recent Radcliffe talk. “And so now your urges to eat get you into trouble, and your urges to get stuff are getting the planet into trouble.”

In wealthy countries the drive for more and bigger homes and cars has obvious carbon-footprint implications, said Duhaime. Those trends — which defy research showing that once basic needs are met, relationships, not things, are key to life satisfaction — are accelerating global warming, with many observers putting the blame on greed, ignorance, and shortsightedness.

Read the whole article here.


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