Old News: Dopamine and Baseball

“Dopamine and Baseball” is not, turns out, the name of Marcy Playground’s second most popular song. Indeed, it’s the name of nothing, in particular, besides this post on a ridiculous blog read by fewer than, say, .0001% of the entire world.

However, dopamine’s role in our enjoyment of baseball is, in fact, mentioned in a New York Times article from 2002 by Sandra Blakeslee which the author found himself reading this afternoon for reasons that will continue to remain mysterious — even to the author himself.

The relevant quote:

Neuroscientists say that part of the appeal of live sporting events is their inherent unpredictability. When a baseball player with two outs at the bottom of the ninth inning hits a home run to win the game, thousands of spectators simultaneously experience a huge surge of dopamine. People keep coming back, as if addicted to the euphoria of experiencing unexpected rewards.

I’m reminded now that Ken Arneson, whom I interviewed in September of 2009, made some interesting comments on this same subject.

Were we smart, it appears, we’d find a way to cultivate moments wherein large doses of dopamine were more likely to be produced. That anyone still roots for the Twins suggests, unfortunately, that were aren’t smart.




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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.


8 Responses to “Old News: Dopamine and Baseball”

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  1. John Thacker says:

    Twins fans got their dopamine today, however. A win at home in 15?

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  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    All I’ll say about the Twins line is: you’d have said the same about Nationals fans in 2008, or Phillies fans in 2000, or Rays fans 1998-2006.

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  3. fenderbelly says:

    Chronic intermittent rewards. Fandom is no different than gambling or gaming. Plus the rush of a crowd roaring in agreement enhances the physical component.

    If only a structural analysis of pleasure led to the procurement of more pleasure, then we’d all be plea… more pl… happier.

    Also – 7000 unique viewers? SS or it didn’t happen.

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  4. Hugh Briss says:

    Dopamine is so 2002….I prefer to cultivate my moments with a dash of bath salts.

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  5. yaboynate says:

    Just say no.

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  6. Greg W says:

    Baseball is attractive to me because nobody knows what happens next. In the moment that the ball is delivered out of the player’s hand, there is uncertainty. In the moment when the ball leaves the bat, the same thing. The possibilities intrigue me every time.

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  7. Ken Arneson says:

    There’s a positive rewards system in the brain (that involves dopamine), but there’s also a negative avoidance system, too. I’m not sure it’s very well understood how independent these two systems are, and how or how much they interact.

    It could be that the desire for the dopamine reward influence our behavior to keep us watching baseball, while completely independently, the desire to avoid the punishments of failure could send us here to Fangraphs to learn how our team could avoid such failures in the future.

    In other words, from Fangraphs’ perspective, the success of the site may have nothing or little to do with dopamine at all.

    Notgraphs, on the other hand, is ALL dopamine ALL THE TIME.

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