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How can we use dopamine levels to choose our career path?

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 01, 2022
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Can we use dopamine, and any other hormone levels like cortisol additionally, to choose the right career for us? If yes, how do we achieve that with high resolution?
  1. Bodily parameters are less deceiving than our thoughts. We may find something interesting and glamorous at glance but boring or incapable in a year. Can we use the bodily parameters to bridge this gap and choose a career (at least the broader field) that we will like?
  2. Why dopamine? I initially thought of dopamine as the obvious choice since it reinforces the feeling of pleasure after a task. However, other parameters like cortisol levels, adrenaline levels, and galvanic skin conductance could be used in addition to dopamine.
Problems and open questions
  1. What parameters would you choose?
  2. How should the test be conducted?
  3. What is the right age to take such a test? Probably after the teenage when the hormones settle. However, can it be taken anytime in adulthood?
Creative contributions

Answering a career test and simultaneously measuring dopamine spikes

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Nov 01, 2022
This contribution explains a way to conduct such a test.
The person appears for a standard test with multiple choices and is asked to select the right choice. The questions are not direct and do not disclose the intent. For example, "how likely are you to like doing something different every day?" And the choices are never, less likely, probably likely, extremely likely. Another example is "how likely are you to try out your own ideas?" with the same choices as the previous question.
The person is connected to a machine that measures dopamine levels real time. Non-invasive devices such as a neuromelanin-sensitive MRI exist that can measure dopamine. Neuromelanin is a byproduct of dopamine metabolism. When each question appears on the person's screen, dopamine levels are noted. These are compared to the baseline dopamine levels taken before the test is initiated or when sample neutral questions like "what is your name"? are displayed on the screen.
The spikes in dopamine are inferred and a career or at least a group of similar careers could be advised. The answers to the career test could also be taken into consideration to add another dimension to the inference.

[1]Cassidy CM, Zucca FA, Girgis RR, Baker SC, Weinstein JJ, Sharp ME, Bellei C, Valmadre A, Vanegas N, Kegeles LS, Brucato G, Kang UJ, Sulzer D, Zecca L, Abi-Dargham A, Horga G. Neuromelanin-sensitive MRI as a noninvasive proxy measure of dopamine function in the human brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Mar 12;116(11):5108-5117. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1807983116. Epub 2019 Feb 22. PMID: 30796187; PMCID: PMC6421437.

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Michaela D
Michaela Da year ago
So, the idea is that we would measure the bodily response to questions and concepts and see what the person would like? And then these responses would correlate to a career? Like an enhanced personal characteristic test that would measure your subconscious reactions instead of your rational replies?
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia year ago
Michaela D Yes, yes, and yes! Each spike in the dopamine level needs to be identified and interpreted. A lot of effort will go into building a knowledge base. This will in turn come from studying more and more participants.
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Some questions and alternatives

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Nov 01, 2022
While it is true that dopamine levels are related to the 'feeling' of happiness and it is called the 'feel good neurotransmitter, I think that to deploy dopamine levels directly to correlate and hence use as a metric for determining something so long-term and influential as a career path is not a good way to go, at least due to some of the confounding limitations of dopamine itself, and also because of the knowledge gap of actual neurobiology. Please consider the following points: Dopamine is not the silver bullet when it comes to happiness
Other neurotransmitters like serotonin and hormones like endorphins are also very influential for feelings of fulfilment, satisfaction and happiness. We might be missing something if we only take dopamine levels as measures. There is a chance for a type I error (false-positive) in such a case.
Dopamine levels are subject to fluctuation
Dopamine levels are influenced by several physiological and psychological factors. For example, addiction. Individuals who are addicted to caffeine or nicotine simply cannot benefit from such a predictive system. Similarly, individuals who suffer from different forms of emotional and psychological distress will not respond adequately to the priming we sought to with the 'questions'.
Dopamine levels at a certain time point might be temporally misguiding
We know that preferences and the meaning of happiness for individuals change over time. If we measure someone's preference for a job XYZ based on the dopamine profile today and encourage him/her to take on that job, we cannot ensure that s/he will continue to find that job fulfilling in the future. This is problematic in the present world where new kinds of jobs and unexplored markets open up very frequently. This makes this prediction system temporally static.
Alternative approach: Use multiplex neurotransmitter panels to assess the predicted satisfaction from a given 'type' of job. Just like immunobiologists use multiplex cytokine ELISA to probe against an array of hormones/molecules, we can use an array of given set of neurotransmitters to map the level of satisfaction/happiness brought about by a certain kind of job. To make it broader, the question and the jobs can be framed to include not any particular job, but a job type.
Also, rather than designing one-time tests, longitudinal testing can be done over a period of time to track if the preferences of the individuals change over time. If the change is too much, it would mean the system will perhaps need a massive restructuring.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia year ago
I agree with all your points. However, they are true of any medical test or a career test that people usually take and are not specific to dopamine measurement. I will explain how.
Regarding your point 1, yes, that is the reason I mentioned that other hormones like serotonin, cortisol, and adrenaline could also be used in addition to dopamine. Regarding point 2, what you say is true. However, that is true of any medical test. We measure glucose levels in diabetics regularly. Glucose levels change due to even slight emotional disturbances, they have diurnal variation, etc. A 2D-echo result of an emotionally stressed person is also not comparable to a healthy person. Therefore, we either perform the test multiple times or control for other confounding factors by, for example, using early morning fasting glucose levels in all instances. The test will come with a set of instructions such as "do not take the test if you are feeling unusually down", etc., which will help us minimize the confounding variables. I agree with the third point, it is a static measurement. However, so is the written career test that people take. The dopamine measurement that I am suggesting will be performed in addition to the written career test to improve the accuracy and resolution of the test. It would not be a standalone test.
I like your suggestion and that could definitely be incorporated. Do you have any specific bodily molecules in mind and how can they be used as deciding factors?
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagaina year ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni like i mentioned i would vouch for using an array of neurotransmitters and hormones; along with behavioural cues. On top of that, physical images of pupil dilation and facial muscles can also aid in the process.
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The problem of "translating" neurotransmitter levels to emotions

Povilas S
Povilas S Nov 09, 2022
My contribution is also a question I'm hoping to get answered if someone competent enough in the field stumbling upon it ever could.
Let's say I want to convert the subjectively perceived happiness of a certain individual to the levels of particular neurotransmitters in their brain. I have the means to measure the levels of the neurotransmitters in real-time. The person rates their subjectively perceived emotions and those ratings are ascribed to the levels of neurotransmitters monitored in the brain at the time of the rating. This is done enough times to be statistically significant.
So now we have the "objective" and automatic means to judge the person's emotional state (at least in the scale of feeling bad-->good) through the reverse process - we measure the levels of certain neurotransmitters in their brain at a given moment and translate this to "how they currently feel".
The question is - will this work? Or can it be that after some time we will register certain levels initially ascribed to a certain emotion, but the person will say they feel very different than they "should" according to the system's interpretation?
The background: Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I know about neurobiology so far, increased levels of certain neurotransmitters can only be "linked" to certain emotional states, they can not be "translated" to them. That's why a model like this (taken from this article):
is so far only theoretical.
A number of important problems stem from this, some of which were mentioned by Subash Chapagain in his contribution, I'll try to talk about those that weren't discussed yet:
1st. problem - you have to know where to measure. Again, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that in order to link a concentration of a certain neurotransmitter in the brain with a certain emotional state, such as interest or motivation, you can't simply measure the general level of it in the brain, you have to measure it in certain region(s) of the brain.
If you measure the general increase of dopamine in the brain, it might not mean that the person is more motivated or happy at that moment. Various neurotransmitters can be found in various places throughout the central nervous system. Different neurotransmitters will signal different emotions in different regions of the brain, they have to be measured independently from each other and in different places of the brain and this is technically complicated.
2nd. problem - the activity might be more important than the quantity. Neurotransmitters serve the function of activating neurons - sending electrical signals through them, neuronal activation in certain brain regions at certain times might translate to emotions better than the levels of neurotransmitters in certain regions at certain times. Neural activity is ever-moving, therefore to register the spreading activity as an emotion is even more complicated.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia year ago
Great inputs! Regarding your point in the second paragraph, a person's ratings will not be used (cannot be used). A subjective conscious feeling of happiness (encouragement) requires an above-threshold secretion of neurotransmitters. Smaller changes cannot be interpreted by our conscious brain. Also, a person usually feels multiple emotions at a time and the dominant one is picked up by our conscious brain. The other feelings are, therefore, lost. The real-time monitoring of the neurotransmitters will help detect even minute changes in the neurotransmitter levels that are not recognized by the conscious brain but are elicited due to the activities of the subconscious part of the brain. The neurotransmitter levels in a person after reading about a question from the questionnaire will be compared to the person's neurotransmitter levels before appearing for the test, as mentioned in the session text, to identify spikes and trenches.
Since we will not use the subjective feeling of the person, the question asked in paragraph 4 is invalid. However, I understand your point. It may happen that throughout the duration of the test, a person's brain may be less and less responsive (in terms of neurotransmitter release) and may not give a spike (in terms of magnitude) that represented a certain emotion in the initial part of the test. I think this issue will need to be solved using post-test adjustments to the neurotransmitter level data. If we understand, after performing multiple tests, that the people become less responsive after a certain period of time, either the test duration could be shortened to that threshold or the responses to the further questions could be adjusted.
I agree with the model (figure) and think that it should have more dimensions, not just three, representing other bodily molecules.
1st problem: You are right, we should know where to measure. We will select the region that gives the maximum resolution in terms of spikes as responses to the questions in the test. Even for this, we will need a certain number of people taking the test.
2nd problem: I agree. So, electrical signal could be a bodily parameter that we can use. It could be added as a new dimension in the model (figure) you mentioned.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni10 months ago
Povilas S I sincerely think subconscious feelings contribute to your motivation. Yes, feelings are subconscious. Yes, all human behavior is arguably emotionally driven.
Okay, in the career test questionnaire, there will be multiple questions that would try to estimate the inclination of the user based on their answers and associated dopamine levels. Now, for example, when reading a question about career A, if the dopamine levels show a peak, it indicates a positive feeling towards the career. However, if there is a simultaneous peak in cortisol level (or another relevant fear signal), the interpretation would be that although the career is likable, it comes with certain costs that the user may find difficult to overcome. Now, when reading about another career B, if the dopamine level shows a similar spike but the cortisol spike is of a lower magnitude, it will indicate that the user finds career B interesting and is also comfortable with it. Therefore, the test might recommend career B followed by career A. It should give a list of all potential careers attached with a probability.
The small spike in cortisol may not be detectable to the conscious mind and the dominant feeling might be that of dopamine. Hence, neurotransmitter signal monitoring might add to the resolution in deciding the fittest career for the user since it uses not only conscious data but also the subconscious.
This is a very crude and simplistic example, but I think you get my point.


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Povilas S
Povilas S10 months ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni Ok, but can you consider subconscious feelings as contributing to your motivation? Is there such a thing as subconscious motivation? Is there such a thing as a subconscious feeling? That's why I think the subjective evaluation is always important when it comes to emotionally driven behavior and all human behavior is arguably emotionally driven.
Let's say you register some dopaminergic activity in the brain which is not subjectively perceived by that person, how would you know if it impacts their decisions/satisfaction?
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