I'm reading some material about motivation and brain chemistry. One of the interesting articles is "7 Ways to Increase Motivation by Improving your Brain Chemistry". I'm interested in a more scientific treatment of the topic. Thus,

  • How can motivation be increased by improving brain chemistry with nutrition or various activities (sport, exercise, relationships etc.)?
  • What scientific articles exist on this topic?

It would be great if there was some article targeting this exact topic with references.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I think that you'd find that a lot of these "articles" (including that one, unfortunately) are pure bunk. Any sort of "magic metabolic fix" should probably give you pause, as these transmitter synthesis pathways are like any other system of the body in that homeostasis (e.g., downregulation of receptors) will easily compensate for any menial gains that you might attain. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Oct 15 '12 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ A good rule of thumb is that anything referring to neurotransmitters ("The dopamine solution", etc.) without regard for the receptor types (e.g., D1 and D2 receptors take on very different roles in the brain) is likely rubbish, IMO. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Oct 15 '12 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ It seems like nutritionist advice, which didn't leave a good impression on me after reading Ben Goldacre's Bad Science. However, the question is a valid one, so +1! $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Oct 16 '12 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ I think the question is certainly worth asking, I hope the fact that my frustration is directed at false claims and not the question itself was apparent. If not, apologies. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Oct 16 '12 at 19:00

The best thing you can do is avoid nutritional deficiencies and exercise. In general, it's the same as for the rest of the body. Many people have subtle nutritional deficiencies that they may never know about their whole life just based on eating habits. As Chuck Sherrington said, neurotransmitter-based treatments are subject to homeostatic compensation, but if you have a deficiency, it may be more complicated.


Particularly, the same things that increase pulmonary/circulatory health are going to increase brain health[1,2]. A large contribution to health in the developing fetal brain comes from the mother's diet. There are lots of diseases associated with maternal nutrtional defecits[3,4].


Running and other physical activities increases neurogenesis [5,6]. But does it do it "intelligently"? I don't know. More neurons isn't automatically more motivation or intelligence. But it is a stress-relief technique, and too much stress can certainly kill motivation.


You didn't ask, but behavioral practice is probably another strong factor. For example, breaking jobs into smaller tasks: getting the first small task done can give a motivational boost towards getting the second done (and so on). They've actually found a correlation between paying smaller loans off first (even though not mathematically more efficient in terms of costs) is more likely to lead to loans being paid off all the way because of the human element[9]

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. I will take some time to read the references and then accept it. I'd like to address a few more topics if possible. Particularly motivation of depressed people for doing small things (hygiene, gardening, cooking etc.) and how it could be increased (without medicaments) with targeting particular foods and vitamins (e.g. I heard about high doses of niacin). The topics like sexual activity, relationships, emotions and stress with regard to brain chemistry are also worth interest. $\endgroup$ – xralf Oct 18 '12 at 8:40

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