Pleasure – What it is, concept, types and how it works in the brain

We explain what pleasure is and the characteristics of each type. Also, how and through what hormones it acts in the brain.

Pleasure can be provoked in each person by different types of stimuli.

What is pleasure?

Pleasure it’s a nice, positive feeling, whose range ranges from well-being (such as the satisfaction of a basic need: hunger, thirst) to euphoric sensations of individual fulfillment or joy, depending on its reason for being, its intensity and its duration in time.

From a biological point of view, nature rewards individual and species needs with sensations of pleasure. Eating when hungry or resting when exhausted are examples of this, but also the sexual pleasure of orgasm, with which nature rewards us for propagating the genes of our species.

For its part, philosophy classifies pleasure as one of the possible types of happiness, especially when it occurs in the long term, which gives rise to speak of “well-being”. Already in Greek Antiquity people reflected on the convenience of living seeking immediate pleasure in life (hedonism), as opposed to the doctrine that postponed it to enjoy it in the long term (eudaimonia), defended among others by Aristotle in the fourth century. to. C.

In addition, traditionally pleasure has been opposed to pain, and they are understood as separate dimensions, hardly irreconcilable. However, it is known that there are sensory boundaries between the two (explored by those who practice, for example, sadomasochism) and also that there are people who derive pleasure from causing pain to others, although the latter is morally condemned in all cultures of the world. planet.

Types of pleasure

The forms of pleasure can be classified according to their origin, that is, what causes the feeling of well-being and in what environment it occurs. Thus, we can differentiate between:

  • Physical pleasure, the result of bodily sensations, especially through the stimulation of the senses. For example, caresses and sexual pleasure are obtained through touch, while taste and smell are involved in gastronomic and drinking pleasure.
  • Psychic pleasure, fruit of the social or individual actions of the mind, specifically of memories, fantasies and personal experiences, such as humor, joy, serenity or peace. This pleasure can even be experienced in the absence of real and immediate pleasure motives.
  • Intellectual pleasure, the fruit of understanding and understanding, is what is experienced when understanding a complex idea, discovering a reality on your own or solving a particularly difficult enigma. It has to do with the feeling of success.
  • The playful pleasure, the fruit of play and leisure, it is one that we experience when we recreate ourselves, and it is one of the first in our conscious social life. Video games, sports, and recreational social experiences bring us this kind of pleasure.
  • Emotional pleasure, fruit of the intimate connection with others, is born of empathy and love, companionship and the feeling of being accompanied in life, of belonging to something greater than ourselves. Filial love, infatuation and eroticism give us this kind of pleasure.
  • Contemplative pleasure, the result of reflection and the aesthetic look of the world, it is that which we obtain simply by being and observing the surrounding reality, something very typical of a certain melancholic or contemplative personal disposition. This is precisely the type of pleasure that most forms of art and entertainment give us: the pleasure of observing, of witnessing the world in its complexity.

How does pleasure work in the brain?

pleasure brain
The hypothalamus secretes hormones that regulate pleasure.

The biochemical complexity of the human brain has not prevented us from finding out a few things about what happens in it when we experience pleasure. However, the answers are not exactly straightforward.

On the one hand, we know that the hypothalamus is the gland in charge of secreting hormones that regulate the senses of pleasure, sexual impulse, anger and fear, so that all these sensations are in principle linked to the most basic of our brain, located in the forebrain.

But at the same time we have been able to identify the four main hormones that give us pleasure:

  • Dopamine. Chemical formula C8HelevenNO2This neurotransmitter produced in the hypothalamus is common in most animals, vertebrates and invertebrates. Its function is linked to five different neuroreceptors in the central nervous system, where it fulfills numerous functions, including being part of the brain’s reward system, through which our body rewards learning through pleasant stimuli, motivating itself.
  • Oxytocin. Chemical formula C43H66OR12S2, It is a neuromodulator of the central nervous system produced in the hypothalamus, and that regulates social, sentimental and sexual behaviors, which is why it is involved with the pleasant sensations of orgasm, as well as breastfeeding. It could also be involved in actions of generosity and trust, as a form of social reward for the protection of the species.
  • Serotonin. Chemical formula C10H12N2Or, this neurotransmitter is synthesized by brain neurons and is usually found in its highest percentage in the gastrointestinal tract. It is in charge of regulating mood, sleep, anger, aggression, appetite, memory, attention and sexuality. Important aphrodisiac properties are attributed to it, as well as an important control of the individual’s daytime behaviors.
  • Endorphins. We are talking here about a set of neurotransmitters: endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins, all opioid substances, that is, they share with opium and its derived drugs the ability to induce analgesia, that is, to suppress pain. Morphine, for example, is a similar opiate. Endorphins also regulate hunger, body temperature, and reproductive functions, synthesized by both the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the adrenal medulla.