For some months, we have been unpleasantly aware of a certain TV ad claiming that a large percentage of PwP are prone to hallucinate. The disease is a big enough monkey on our backs, do we need an added social stigma like this? Well, if you thought those hallucinations are just a sign of brain disease, take comfort: our dopamine-raising meds could be to blame. Came across an article on superstition ( nautil.us/issue/60/searches... ) with this interesting observation:
"People, just like pigeons, are desperate to understand how the world works and map out its patterns. We know a bit about the biological process underlying this drive. It appears that a neurotransmitter—a chemical that neurons use to communicate with each other—called dopamine is strongly implicated in pattern detection in the brain. Very broadly speaking, the more dopamine you have at work in your brain, the more patterns you see.
"Dopamine tags perceptions as meaningful. If there is too little dopamine, we don’t notice any patterns, and if there is too much, we perceive patterns that are not there. We might jump at every shadow, thinking it’s a murderer. Our view of the world would be full of misconceptions—and we would become paranoid. Our dopamine levels have to be set correctly.
"In fact, we are all born with default dopamine levels: This often determines how we see the world. The Swiss neuroscientist Peter Brugger ran a famous experiment testing the extent to which one’s dopamine output determined one’s worldview. He showed images of faces to participants, some of whom had admitted to believing in the paranormal and in religion, and others who had said they were skeptics. Some of the images were easily recognizable as faces and some were degraded to the point where it was hard to discern facial features. The skeptics saw few facial patterns while the believers saw many.
"Half of the skeptics were then unwittingly given a dose of levodopa, a drug that temporarily increased their dopamine levels. With levodopa, these skeptics behaved more like the believers—they saw more faces in the images. Because it could manipulate a person’s pattern sensitivity by changing their dopamine levels, this experiment showed that higher dopamine levels can cause more pattern detection. The process also works in reverse: Mexican neuroscientists Victor de Lafuente and Ranulfo Romo found that when thrust into unpredictable environments, monkeys had an increased amount of dopamine in their brains.
"It turns out that when we are confronted with a situation that presents no obvious pattern our brains amp up the dopamine levels, making us superstitious. The situation creates cognitive confusion and we respond accordingly . . . "
And, it seems to me that with our debilitated brains and bodies, and our slower reaction times, the bar is lowered for what feels like an "unpredictable (i.e., risky) environment" and what will thus trigger off hallucinations. For example, navigating our darkened house in the evening could be a problem for us, but not for a healthy person.