From Publishers Weekly
Berns kicks off this thought-provoking exploration with a simple question, "What do humans want?" He challenges the belief that we are driven primarily to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Rather, Berns finds that "satisfaction comes less from the attainment of a goal and more in what you must do to get there." With a series of experiments using cutting-edge MRI scanning technology, he sees that the interaction of dopamine, the hormone secreted in the brain in anticipation of pleasure, and cortisol, the chemical released when we are under stress, produces the feelings people associate with satisfaction. Berns, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory, ventures into the physical world to prove his thesis, looking at bruised and reddened s&m enthusiasts and ultramarathoners collapsing after a 100-mile run. The author then brings his journey home, confronting issues in his own marriage and the sexual dissatisfaction that so often plagues long-term relationships. His conclusion is simple and compelling: people are wired for novel experience, and when we seek it out, we are satisfied. This will be a highly satisfying read for anyone interested in what gets us out of bed in the morning day after day.
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From Scientific American
Gregory Berns believes that the striatum, a tiny bit of tissue in the lower brain, holds the key to satisfaction in life. Berns, who teaches psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, is interested in what motivates people to seek out novel experiences as a way to achieve satisfaction--a process, he says, controlled by the striatum. Yet it is surprising and disappointing that such a prolific researcher and author of scholarly articles has chosen to entertain readers with exploits rather than science. Only a few short sections of Satisfaction focus on his own work, so we get little understanding of how neuroscience is done. Explaining brain anatomy, chemistry and psychology to a general audience is a huge challenge--and one Berns does not really meet. Each chapter has a few pages of hard science but then describes at length a visit by Berns to an exotic location or an event that illustrates how people strive to meet extreme challenges as a way of attaining satisfaction. In one chapter, Berns flies to the Sierra Nevadas to observe ultramarathoners run for hours over mountain trails, which he then uses to write about brain metabolism and exhaustion. His other trips--to a volcano in Iceland and to a sadism and masochism club near his home in Atlanta, for example--follow the same pattern. These jaunts reach a high (or low) point when he ends up in a Long Island, N.Y., kitchen, his feet immersed in warm lemon juice and fennel, waiting for a chocolate cake to come out of the oven--as the chef reads Jorge Luis Borges's poetry to him in Spanish. The final chapter is somewhat embarrassing. Berns confesses that while he has jetted around he has left his wife at home with few sources of adult stimulation and two toddlers. In addition, he complains that their sex life has become routine. He finds a solution in the sexual crucible, a program developed by a Colorado marital therapist. The result is a night of lovemaking that pleases him in a way that he equates with an ultramarathoner's high. Some readers may fall in love with Berns's quests for novelty; others may fi nd no satisfaction here.