New Scientist Live: what makes your brain happy? | Artificial intelligence
We know it when we feel it, but what exactly is happiness? That’s the question neuroscientist Dean Burnett will be tackling at New Scientist Live in September.
Happiness might seem like a straightforward emotion, but dig deeper and things soon get complicated. For a start, there is more than one way to think about “happiness”, and no certainty about how best to measure it. Some studies focus on how happy someone is in the moment, while others measure how satisfied people are with their lives. The two are not the same.
Many different positive emotions such as awe, hope and gratitude give rise to a feeling of happiness, but it isn’t clear why these emotions evolved in the first place.
One theory is that happiness improves our cognitive capacities while we are in safe situations, allowing us to plan and prepare for the long term. That’s in marked contrast to the effects of negative emotions like fear, which focus our attention so we can deal with short-term problems.
The feeling of happiness can be attributed to a cocktail of chemicals in the brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine, for instance, is responsible for reward and pleasure, and the “cuddle” hormone oxytocin creates intimacy and trust. But, as Burnett will discuss in his talk at New Scientist Live, there isn’t one defined brain area that is responsible for happiness.
On 21 September, Burnett will argue that happiness isn’t the default state for the human brain and that, in fact, it isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be – it can make you more selfish and careless.
New Scientist Live is our award-winning festival of ideas and discoveries held at ExCeL London. The four-day event will feature more than 110 speakers giving thought-provoking talks on everything from the obesity epidemic to how to build a human.