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Pleasure and pain
Pleasure-Seeking Behaviour
Pleasure and Drugs
Avoiding Pain

HelpLinked Module: L’être biologique : Douleur et plaisirLinked Module: The Behavioral Approach System & The Behavioral Inhibition SystemLinked Module: conférence sur le plaisir dirigée par Jean-Didier Vincent
Linked Module: Book: La chair et le Diable, by Jean-Didier Vincent. Poches Odile Jacob, 2000.
History Module: Une introduction au plaisir

When an action is rewarded, the behaviour that was the source of this satisfaction is reinforced. This is called positive reinforcement. A classic example would be giving food to a dog as a reward for doing what you tell it to.

Psychologists also use the term negative reinforcement to refer to eliminating something disagreeable to encourage a particular behaviour. A good example here would be teaching a dog to lie down by pulling downward on its leash until it sits to relieve the pressure on its neck.
Linked Module: Le conditionnement opérant ou l'apprentissage instrumental

The brain’s primary role is to maintain equilibrium (homeostasis) in the body’s internal environment. The brain maintains homeostasis by instructing the body to act to correct any imbalances as they arise.

Pleasure is the mechanism that evolution has developed to encourage us to eat, find a sexual partner, take refuge from the cold, etc. When action is possible, pleasure is very often the goal, through the desire-action-satisfaction cycle.

But action can also be necessary to respond to a threat of danger. When we are confronted with danger, we have two options: flee from it, or render the threat inoperative. In other words, flight or fight! Whether the danger is a hostile person or an inanimate threat such as fire, flight is generally the first option that we consider. But if flight is impossible or would not be effective, we try to confront the danger–in other words, to fight the enemy or fight the flames.

These active approach and avoidance behaviours are under the control of what is sometimes called the behavioural approach system (BAS). This system comprises two main neural circuits: one corresponding to rewarded action and the other to successful avoidance.

The reward circuit, or medial forebrain bundle (MFB) is activated in the desire–action–satisfaction cycle. The punishment circuit, or periventricular system (PVS) is activated when you decide whether to fight or flee.

It should be mentioned in passing that the activation of the PVS in turn activates the sympathetic nervous system and causes ACTH and adrenaline to be released into the body to quickly prepare it for the effort required to fight or flee.

But sometimes neither gratifying action nor fight or flight is possible. That is when the behavioural inhibition system comes into play.

Self-stimulation experiments on animals are based on the positive reinforcement of an operant conditioning. In other words, when the animal performs a certain behaviour, it receives a reward. Similar studies on humans have shown that these stimulations of the reward bundle produce an intense pleasure that some researchers have associated with that experienced during orgasm. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that some of the subjects in these experiments have developed strong feelings of attraction for the researchers in charge. This suggests that the stimuli that reinforce a behaviour in animals are the same kind that produce intense pleasure in humans.

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