Sex, Chocolate, and Vocab

159291677Learning new words stimulates the same brain center as such long-proven means of deriving pleasure, as having sex, gambling or eating chocolate, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.
A team of researchers at Barcelona’s Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute and Germany’s Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg has found that successful learning of the meanings of new words activates the same core reward center in the brain as chocolate, sex, and drugs. The ventral striatum is a part of the brain activated by positive emotions.
“The purpose of the study was to find out to what extent learning a language could activate these pleasure-and-reward circuits,” study author Antoni Rodríguez Fornells told La Vanguardia, Barcelona’s top Catalan newspaper. “From the point of view of evolution, it is an interesting theory that this type of mechanism could have helped human language to develop,” added Rodríguez Fornells.



  1. I cannot say anything about the relations between the three but
    pleasure and learning a language go hand in hand. It may not be actually experienced until the learning is initial and rudimentary, until the words are very isolated and have few connections. But when the words start occurring in clusters and in contexts (cf.: ‘Words in the Mind’ by Jean Aitchison. – OUP), the mind becomes activated like a house on fire. This internal process is really pleasing and a reference for it is Keats’s “If the words do not come like leaves to a tree..” and some lines in William Blake’s MARGINALIA and the Poems of Innocence, as well as Emerson’s “Poets are the liberating gods”… “tipsy on water”, and more. However, the greatest pleasure with words is the initial moments of communication in a foreign language. Whoever consciously perceived these moments, will confirm this. I have witnessed the joy of old and distinguished scholars (classicists) who radiated like children telling me how successfully they managed to communicate with Greek actors of a modern theatre while using Old Greek, in the early 1980s. I experienced the same pleasure when I first tested my English on an American pianist, Malcolm Frager, in the early 1960s. All this took place in the Soviet Union, and you can take my word for granted that these people really had mastered the languages and really faced the native speakers of the foreign languages for the first time. Their joy cannot be mistrusted only confirmed by the conscientious. Sense-making words is a great pleasure to their masters.

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