Loretta Breuning and the happy brain chemicals for gamification | Episode 110

Listen to this episode on your phone!

Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., is the author of Habits of a Happy Brain, and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute. She’s Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, East Bay. As a teacher and a mom, she was disappointed by prevailing theories of human motivation. Her search for answers led to the brain chemistry we share with animals, and then everything made sense. She knew this information could help people, so she set about creating resources. Her books have been translated into Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, French, Turkish and German. Her videos, blogs and many other media are free at the Inner Mammal Institute.

Loretta begins by explaining how humans in the animal world are spending their days releasing a reward chemical that motivates you to take steps towards something that meets survival needs or a threat chemical that motivates us to step away from threats. In the human world, we still have these chemical reactions, but the threats and motivations aren’t entirely the same.

Loretta then goes into how the release of dopamine in the animal world is closely related to how you receive dopamine from a video game, you see a reward that you know satisfies your need and knowing you’re going to achieve that will lead to the release of dopamine. This is a pathway that is formed from the first time you experience the satisfaction of that need and therefore explains why the first experience is often the most important, which is when our brains relate a certain experience to the release of dopamine.

Following this Loretta goes into the social rewards, which can come from the act of playing the game itself or the game is modeling the social reward. These come from 2 different chemicals to dopamine. Loretta goes on to discuss how oxytocin is released from the social aspect of being part of a group. This has a lot to do with survival and seeking refuge from predators, one of the main reasons for that need to belong. Playing a game with others can lead to the release of oxytocin, this includes multiplayer games online which explains why people who may not have a ‘herd’ or be part of a group in real life often find comfort in online games where you have to work with others to achieve a common goal.

Then there is also serotonin, the second social happy brain chemical. It is released when mammals realize that we are priming, that we have some form of social advantage or relative strength over a fellow member with regards to something. In apes, if there is a banana between two of them and they are part of the same group, it is clear before any confrontation who will get the banana. This could be understood as the winner chemical.

Loretta then discusses the difference between the male and female reactions, how we look towards an environment where we can win and how we focus on what is advantageous to us, given our conditions. This shows in monkeys in how they approach passing on their genes, males will go for quantity and females will go for quality as it is what’s more advantageous to them even though they’re approaching the same goal.

After Loretta goes into the endorphin chemical and how it masks pain after times of receiving physical pain, therefore when an animal has been wounded it can still escape. This can also be released in a slight way from laughing. Some people tend to exercise very hard as well, and endorphins might also kick in, though this is something she does certainly not recommend!

Loretta would love to hear David Attenborough on the podcast, she describes him as her hero and relates to his perspective on animals. She would recommend the book Chimpanzee Politics which is the observations of monkeys. Loretta’s favorite game is Oregon Trail as in nature variety is what stimulates your dopamine.

More on Loretta at InnerMammalInstitute.org/about


There are many ways to get in touch with Professor Game:





Ask a question

Subscribe to Professor Game E-mail Newsletter

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × 2 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.