Where is the Brain's Pleasure Center?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Although the nucleus accumbens, in the limbic system near the center of the brain, is usually considered the "pleasure center" of the brain, but this is actually a misnomer, as the brain has multiple pleasure centers. However, the nucleus accumbens is the among the most prominent.

There are multiple pleasure centers in the brain.
There are multiple pleasure centers in the brain.

The nucleus accumbens mediates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which underlies pleasure and relaxation. But the dopamine itself is released from the ventral tegmental area (VTA), another contender for the title of "pleasure center." The VTA releases dopamine to the nucleus accumbens, the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and septum, all of which play an important role in what is called the reward circuit.

The limbic system is one "pleasure center" of the brain.
The limbic system is one "pleasure center" of the brain.

The term "pleasure center" originated with experiments by James Olds and Peter Milner in the 1950s probing the limbic systems of rats. They found that the rats quite enjoyed stimulation of their septal areas, located near the brain stem and among the oldest areas of the brain. In fact, the rats enjoyed it so much that they would cross highly electrified floors to reach a switch that stimulated it, and would press that switch thousands of times at the exclusion of all else. Female rats would even abandon their unweaned pups to self-stimulate their pleasure center.

Only a few experiments have been conducted involving the electrical stimulation of human pleasure centers. Generally these investigations are considered taboo. In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Heath, who believed he could "cure" homosexuality, wired up gay volunteers to an electrical apparatus that directly stimulated their nucleus accumbens, producing feelings of extreme pleasure. Given the choice, one man, code-named B-19, electrically self-stimulated his reward circuitry some 1,500 times. Few experiments directly stimulating the human pleasure centers have been conducted since.

It is interesting that the pleasure centers and the reward circuit are among the oldest areas of the brain. This means they were the first to evolve, and underscores the fundamental nature of pleasure/pain centers as an evolutionary adaptation.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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the structures in your brain do not say "I need to produce a certain amount of pleasure producing molecules because this certain thing is happening." Your brain just does things! It might be, in terms of music, a stimuli tickling a structure(say used for hearing) and really gets that structure swooning releasing all of that stuff.

You could have an identical, less or more powerful reaction in the future, but that is based on other reactions occurring at the same time, which are also based on the structures they are effecting. So, you cannot measure pleasure with a machine because "pleasure" is not the only thing occurring.

Your brain has a lot of stuff going on at the same time that all affects itself.

In my opinion, no. One likes something or they don't, but perhaps the amount of pleasure they receive varies, is what i think your father is trying to convey. One plays music because they like it. If they find playing irritating or frustrating, they simply will not do it. But if they like/get pleasure from it they will return to the stimuli that gave them that pleasure, but a more romantic/natural/divine truth comes into play here, for life never promises you anything.

Life cannot promise you if you play music, as with anything, you will get pleasure, therefore when seeking pleasure one is gambling time in hope for more of pleasure.

Good question! Had a lot to say. Hope it helps.


@ below: i am a musician and when i am depressed i can't stand music -- it's just distracting noise.

you need to emotionally come to terms with who you are. life is what you make it.


I am reading this article to learn more about my brain injury. I was one who enjoyed music, and dancing, getting pleasure from it. Music is just noise now, I prefer quiet. I don't get pleasure anymore. if there were a way to fix this, I want to know. life without pleasure, is it worth living?


The nature of one man's pleasure is only known to one who experiences it. the height and depth of one man's pleasure is truly unmeasurable. For if you could

measure it, it could be adjusted, hence be able to fix it.


My father says that there is no such thing as intensity of interests, that you either like something or you don't. I disagree. What do YOU think? Can the degree to which a person likes something-or to put it more precisely: Say a person enjoys classical music. Can the degree of pleasure that they are experiencing when listening to that melody be measured by a machine?


P.S. PLEASE BE SPECIFIC. If your answer is YES, please explain HOW (e.g. with what type of machine? What chemicals are being activated etc.)

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