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Dopamine: the ‘pleasure chemical’ that helps young people learn

Blamed for smartphone and gambling addiction, the ‘pleasure chemical’ has been held up by the tabloid media as the malign force behind every teenage misstep. But the research, writes Chris Parr, shows that this neurotransmitter has a positive role to play in boosting learning and memory


Underpinning the many moral panics about teenage behaviour – screen-time addiction, gaming obsession, a reticence towards face-to-face communication – sits an assumption that teens themselves are not to blame, rather they are being led astray by the manipulation of that most dastardly destroyer of free will: dopamine.

The kids can’t help themselves, goes the theory, because the powers of capitalism have worked out how to use dopamine to their advantage.

There’s plenty of supporting evidence. A Daily Mail headline promises to tell us “why trendy cupcakes may be as addictive as cocaine” (it is ...

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