If there’s one thing beer and Lay’s potato chips have in common, it’s that you can’t have just one (well, one sip in the case of beer). You may even be thinking to yourself, “hey, a beer sounds pretty good right now,” as you read this very sentence. Whenever that thought comes to mind, you can blame a pea-sized portion of your brain deep inside the right ventral striatum.
Researchers at Indiana University published a study on August 30 that found that a single sip of beer stimulates your brain and drives cravings. The study gathered a group of lucky beer drinkers and gave them both a Gatorade and their favorite brew. Then, after each of the men (beer-drinking women were left out of this study) took a sip of one of the beverages, he went through an fMRI brain imaging machine.
Turns out, the flavor of beer activated more parts of the brain than Robert Boucher’s least favorite drink. Both frontal lobes and the right ventral striatum showed activation through increased blood oxygen levels after each man drank beer. One small section of the right ventral striatum, the part of the brain that handles motivated behavior and rewards, increased in activity the most.
“We believe this is the first study to use multiple brain imaging modalities to reveal both increased blood oxygen levels and dopamine activity in response to the taste of an alcohol beverage,” Brandon Oberlin, one of the authors of the study and an assistant research professor of neurology, said in a press release.
The study builds on an earlier study done at Indiana University on beer and dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy. The prior study, which was published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, looked at the dopamine levels of 49 men after they tasted beer by putting them through a PET brain imaging machine. The brain scans showed that dopamine levels increased (as to be expected) when they tasted beer — even when the beer was non alcoholic.
Twenty eight of those lucky 49 men who drank for science were brought in again for the beer versus Gatorade test. You know. For science.
Don’t judge that pea-sized driver of beer cravings by its size. Alcohol helps you work out, makes you better at creative tasks, and makes good food taste better. All that tiny section of the brain asks is that you listen to its desires.