We drink beer for two reasons, or three if you have Untappd. The first reason is for the delicious flavours. The second is to trigger dopamine release from the striatum part of your brain. For those of you, like me, who slept through this class in school, dopamine is the classic reward neurotransmitter. Nicotine, cocaine and alcohol all have positive effects on the dopamine systems of the brain. You drink beer, alcohol causes release of dopamine and you feel good. Sounds right to me. That and a social media badge and life is good.
Researchers at the University of Indiana set out to determine if just the flavour of beer could illicit a dopamine response without the alcohol component. On a side note, I think there are way more breweries in BC than Indiana. Indiana has about 20, BC about a whole lot more.
Anyways, a bunch of right handed beer drinkers were hooked up to a fancy brain scan machine that could monitor dopamine activity in their striatum. Why right handed? Left handed people tend to respond to brain studies differently. But this is another article. Back on topic, these poor subjects were hooked up to yet another machine that sprayed stuff directly on their tongues. Oddly when water or Gatoraid was sprayed on the tongue, no dopamine release was noticed. However, when beer was sprayed on the tongue, or tasted, there was a noticeable dopamine release. Also of interest was that if there was a familiar risk of alcoholism, the dopamine release was increased.
This study concluded that reward is a conditioned response that can be triggered by flavours and not the pharmacological effects of alcohol. Just tasting beer makes us want to drink more. Also if you have a genetic or family risk of alcoholism, your dopamine release is heightened. They should add another wing to this study to see if dopamine release is further enhanced when a new badge is gained on Untappd.