Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

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Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby Mossling on June 18th, 2011, 11:40 pm 

Human behaviour is apparently motivated by the search for pleasure/happiness/rewards, while avoiding pain.

If so, what is the perceived 'reward' for a person who commits suicide? What pleasure are they seeking in attempting to end their life? Indulgence in an idea about a life free from pain projected into the future?

I understand that some peoples' DNA may predispose them to suicidal behaviour no matter what they do, but I would like to focus more on those who have been driven to suicide by nurture.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby selfless on June 19th, 2011, 5:50 am 

Mossling wrote:Human behaviour is apparently motivated by the search for pleasure/happiness/rewards, while avoiding pain.

If so, what is the perceived 'reward' for a person who commits suicide? What pleasure are they seeking in attempting to end their life? Indulgence in an idea about a life free from pain projected into the future?

I understand that some peoples' DNA may predispose them to suicidal behaviour no matter what they do, but I would like to focus more on those who have been driven to suicide by nurture.


My own thoughts about this (having dealt with a depressed and sometimes suicidal family member for decades) is that the genetic component is the key. The predisopsition to a 'will to live' is perhaps on a bell curve (like most things) and at the extreme ends are those who will persevere regardless of how harsh and unpleasurable their life my be (like that guy in the movie 'The Road') and those who really find everything intolerable.

So then it becomes a matter of degrees of unpleasantness and just how much one person can tolerate and how much pleasure they can experience.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby psionic11 on June 19th, 2011, 3:26 pm 

Avoiding pain.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby newyear on June 21st, 2011, 11:02 am 

psionic11 wrote:Avoiding pain.


I'm not sure this is correct.

I think the human being is motivated by more things than the typical Hedonist behaviour. For example, cycling competitions are very painful, and some have actually dropped dead during a Tour de France, or Giro de Italy.
Pain is not a reason but a symptom that may lead to the idea of not wanting to live. Most human beings are motivated by objectives (or desires, which ever word one wants to choose). A desire is an unfulfilled sensual perception. When the all of one's senses perceive the object of a desire, then that desire can be said to have been fulfilled. Be it taking one's life or eating a strawberry flavoured ice cream.

To actually take one's life is very difficult. Although it may probably be very simple, there is a psychological barrier that makes the act next to impossible. That is the reason why the debate about euthanasia is so popular at the moment. If taking one's life didn't have this psychological barrier there would be no discussion, no help would be needed. The human being is programmed to live, not to die.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby neuro on June 22nd, 2011, 4:57 pm 

what about that old idea of Socrates', that men only make evil because they are ignorant...
If they could see what really benefits them, what might really make them happy, everybody would only behave ethically.

The whole story can apply here as well: choosing to suicide most often constitute a wrong evaluation in terms of pleasure/pain and one's own interest.
Actually, any suicidal behavior is usually considered defective, and a symptom of a mental illness, or heavy distress, or a behavioral ailment
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby moranity on June 22nd, 2011, 6:25 pm 

a friend came up with a theory that the state of depression is a survival adaptation which protects an individual from chalenging more powerful individuals, an action which would be detremental to that individual.
the theory goes like this:
when an individual is slighted by one who is equally powerful to, or less powerful than them, they can react agressively. However, if the individual is more powerful than them, to act aggressively will only result in a beating of some sort. So, when something bad is done to us by one in authority we are designed to blame ourselves, thus avoiding possibly disasterous conflict and encouraging the individual to adjust behavour to avoid future conflict. Now, in a hunter gatherer situation, this repremand will proberbly be justified, and soon forgotten, i suspect theres nothing like bringing down some game, or running like hell through a jungle to make ya forget ya worries. So in a "natural" situation i.e. the one in which we did much of our recent evolving, when we are slighted by authority, we feel bad, but can adjust behavour, or walk off and kill something to forget about it. So this mechanism causes little trouble in a hunter gatherer, infact it protects them from stupid reactions to authority, but when brought into the modern era, there are constant slights from unreasonable authority and nothing to do but dwell on them and never be able to solve them. The fact that another has more than me is a slight on my pride, i feel angry or depressed, but i can do nothing to remove that slight, so it gnaws away.(not me personally, i aint bothered)
this whole thing is increased when there is an unjust parent, if a parent hits a child, that child must blame themselves, must feel they are at fault, they can not help it, life long depression can result from repeated stuff like this.

there, thats the general theory, i've not put it that well, but i really do hope it gets across the idea, my friend who thought it up, (infact the only viable theory for the survival value of depression i've heard) has suffered all her life from severe depression.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby Mossling on June 22nd, 2011, 10:59 pm 

moranity wrote:The fact that another has more than me is a slight on my pride, i feel angry or depressed, but i can do nothing to remove that slight, so it gnaws away.

I agree with a lot of what you say, and especially this idea about being trapped in a situation with no way out leading to depression.

There can be many 'oppressive' situations, though - natural disasters, epidemics - not only "more powerful individuals". I think the depression comes from the mistaken idea that someone is to blame for one's predicament - an active 'free agent' who is not susceptible to being influenced in negative ways by their environment. This could be ourselves, or it can be a person who can physically control us in certain ways. For example, if your boss' parents were killed by a volcano, causing him to grow up on the streets without love, and he caught a lucky break and worked his way up to his present situation, and he reacts unreasonably to you, could one not say that you are suffering the volcano and not your boss' shortcomings? Demanding that a person should be able to overcome being orphaned by a volcano and forced onto the streets at a young age seems to be a bit much. Scratch the surface of any unreasonable individual, and I think one will find an equivalent history, or combination of historical events.

As Neuro relates regarding Socrates' "men only make evil because they are ignorant. If they could see what really benefits them, what might really make them happy, everybody would only behave ethically", with the right kind of understanding and discipline, it seems we all know (even if we actively bury it) that there is a way to deal with any trauma. It's just that there is a 'spiritual poverty' in the World which keeps everyone ignorant - a poverty which apparently often stifles wisdom when it begins to emerge and establish itself. Thus, we find figures like Ghandi and Jesus killed for what they believe and practice.

Returning to suicide, I think there is a potential for an indulgence in a fantasy that has no logical premise - something like "Once I'm dead, then they'll all feel sad, just like I do" or "I won't feel pain after I die", even though after death there is no 'I' to feel anything. Due to our ability to predict a future state with good accuracy, we can 'cash in' the positive emotions associated with that future state, even if we won't be around to experience it.

There was an experiment conducted where monkeys (or apes maybe) were put in a cage with a lever and a delivery chute. When they pulled the lever, an edible treat came down the chute. Their brains were wired up so that their reward centres could be monitored, and their pleasure was seen to peak at the moment they pulled the lever - not at the moment when they consumed the treat. If the mechanism was modified so that the treat never arrived after the monkey pulled the lever, then their habit of peaking when pulling the lever diminished. The pleasure peak from pulling the lever was dependent on the future event of receiving the treat. It seems we often live our lives in this way - anticipation of a highly probable positive event delivering most of our pleasure associated with that event before the event has actually occurred.

I would expect that a person who indulges in suicidal thoughts - something they do to make themselves happy - would need to have conviction in following through with the intended suicidal act in order for the indulgence in the fantasy to be possible. They would need to ensure that the prediction-pleasure-peak to treat delivery connection was maintained so that the indulgence in the fantasy can have it's required effect.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby newyear on June 23rd, 2011, 6:21 pm 

Mossling wrote:It seems we often live our lives in this way - anticipation of a highly probable positive event delivering most of our pleasure associated with that event before the event has actually occurred.


The human being is a creature of habit, in every way imaginable. A habit is a perception that has been repeated. When a perception is not repeated then a reaction will occur. The reaction is to restore the perception. If something impedes this, then the reaction may turn into frustration, and in certain cases depression. For example, if someone close, like a partner or parent passes away, it becomes impossible to replace this perception. For those that cannot reason with this loss, depression is the result.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby Mossling on June 23rd, 2011, 10:46 pm 

newyear wrote:If something impedes this, then the reaction may turn into frustration, and in certain cases depression. For example, if someone close, like a partner or parent passes away, it becomes impossible to replace this perception. For those that cannot reason with this loss, depression is the result.

Agreed, and the impediment to reasoning with such loss seems to be habitual unhealthy attitudes towards experiencing pain. As a child, if our best friend teases us, or abuses their power in some small way - offers us a sweet and then denies us that sweet - then we may often seek to manipulate the situation so that we can obtain the pleasure that we 'cashed in' through anticipation (just like the monkey and the lever).

Without a philosophy that keeps one in the moment and focussed on potentially ever-changing circumstances, then it seems unhealthy manipulative habits will evolve in individuals. We can only 'cash in' in anticipation if the future treat-delivery system is consistent enough. In this way, I believe non-lethal painful events are most often met with manipulation of certain factors connected with the arrival of the pain, as opposed to an acceptance of the non-lethal pain as being a normal part of life. Modern attitudes towards childbirth could be a good example of this - pain relief drugs being used more and more - even though there is evidence to suggest that the pain triggers maternal instinct in mothers. I can't remember who said it, but there is a quote: "Pain is but the breaking of the eggshell of our knowledge".

I think this is where depression comes from - feeling unable to manipulate a situation which is delivering non-lethal pain.

This reminds me of an experience on Wudan Mountain here in China. The mountain has semi-feral monkeys living on it, and when I visited, tourists had been buying monkey nuts to feed to them. I found a load of nuts thrown on the path at one point and collected them to feed to the nearby monkeys. I held the nut out in my hand and the monkey took it and gobbled it quickly while looking nervously at it's comrades. I used up all my nuts and wanted to continue my interaction, so I thought I would play a trick on the monkey. I held my empty fist closed and offerred it out like before, and the monkey apparently 'cashed in' it's reward as it reached towards me like before. When I opened my empty fist palm-up, however, the monkey obviously felt 'cashed-out', because it screamed at me angrily and hit my palm with it's paw. I got a fright, which served me right. I think it's a good example of how the monkey sought to manipulate the factors surrounding it's experience of pain, rather than live in the moment, accept the potentially ever-changing conditions of it's environment, and move along calmly, it tried to force me, via violence, to deliver that which it had anticipated and 'cashed in'. This is not unlike many human interactions it seems.

It seems that when a bully who has habitually used superior strength becomes weaker than others, he very likely suffers depression if he can not find a way to manage the painful situations he has manipulated to his advantage over so many years.

Of course, physical bullying can go beyond muscular strength, and into financial or political domains:

MailOnline News: Credit crunch banker leaps to his death in front of express train (Sept 2008) wrote:The City was in shock last night after the apparent suicide of a millionaire financier haunted by the pressures of dealing with the credit crunch.

Kirk Stephenson, who was married with an eight-year-old son, died in the path of a 100mph express train at Taplow railway station, Berkshire.

Mr Stephenson is believed to have taken his own life after succumbing to mounting personal pressures as the world’s financial markets went into meltdown.
[...]
New Zealand-born Mr Stephenson, who owned a £3.6million, five-storey house in Chelsea and a retreat in the West Country, was chief operating officer of Olivant Advisers.

Last year, the private equity firm tried to buy a 15 per cent stake worth almost £1billion in Northern Rock before the bank was nationalised
Link
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby newyear on June 24th, 2011, 11:15 am 

Mossling, there are two points you raised that I would like to draw your attention to. First:

Mossling wrote: I found a load of nuts thrown on the path at one point and collected them to feed to the nearby monkeys. I held the nut out in my hand and the monkey took it and gobbled it quickly while looking nervously at it's comrades. I used up all my nuts and wanted to continue my interaction, so I thought I would play a trick on the monkey. I held my empty fist closed and offerred it out like before, and the monkey apparently 'cashed in' it's reward as it reached towards me like before. When I opened my empty fist palm-up, however, the monkey obviously felt 'cashed-out', because it screamed at me angrily and hit my palm with it's paw.


Doesn't this demonstrate that the monkey took it as a habit that your hand did hold a nut? And, on being found empty the monkey reacted? Food is one of the strongest motives to move the animal kingdom, us included. And, note, it is not whether one has food or no food, but the amount and type of food one is accustomed to eat every day (the habitual quantity).

This leads to the second point:

Mossling wrote:Mr Stephenson is believed to have taken his own life after succumbing to mounting personal pressures as the world’s financial markets went into meltdown.
[...]
New Zealand-born Mr Stephenson, who owned a £3.6million, five-storey house in Chelsea and a retreat in the West Country, was chief operating officer of Olivant Advisers.


Probably this unfortunate gentleman could eat and live, but not eating or living as habitually accustomed to. The psychological trauma of not having as he was used to drove him to despair. There is another factor in this case, and that is his idea of his own image. He also probably thought that by losing his image (that of success to failure) changed the image he, and those of others, had of him. That is, he lost his habitual image.

Psychologists, I guess, find these cases quite frequently in todays business world. Some years ago, my own brother-in-law took his own life in similar circumstances. Changing one's habitual 'style' of shelter and food, together with image, for something 'lower' is unbalancing in general. This may even be a reason why the human being is, in general, herdlike. To protect itself against these types of movements up and down.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby Forest_Dump on June 24th, 2011, 12:41 pm 

Out of curiosity, given the title of this thread and although perhaps out of date in many ways, did anyone consider looking at Durkheim's book on Suicide? It is kind of a classic in sociology.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby newyear on June 24th, 2011, 2:21 pm 

Forest, I have just had a quick look, and I think it may have been very relevant in its time. It's not that times have changed, they haven't, but ideas have. Although it is possible to classify certain cases, to group them, nevertheless, suicide is driven by a loss of a habitual perception. Be it physical or mental.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby Mossling on June 25th, 2011, 9:33 am 

newyear wrote:He also probably thought that by losing his image (that of success to failure) changed the image he, and those of others, had of him. That is, he lost his habitual image.

And it seems he also lost his ability to manipulate the world in order to 'manage' his painful experiences. Remove all that money and power, and the world becomes a chaotic and fearsome beast. I believe many people chase power for this very reason - to control their environment so that their anticipation-to-reward delivery systems can be maintained smoothly, maybe often as a result of previous trauma.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby Forest_Dump on June 25th, 2011, 10:58 am 

newyear wrote:Although it is possible to classify certain cases, to group them, nevertheless, suicide is driven by a loss of a habitual perception. Be it physical or mental.


Well, it does appear to me that you are implying some kind of common or shared (sociological) factor rather than pure anomie. That, I think, was a key point by Durkheim - that things like suicide can be grouped and classified. It appears to me that you are just using a different classification or perhaps that all suicides are the same. I would definitely disagree with the latter.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby newyear on June 25th, 2011, 6:17 pm 

Mossling wrote:And it seems he also lost his ability to manipulate the world in order to 'manage' his painful experiences. Remove all that money and power, and the world becomes a chaotic and fearsome beast. I believe many people chase power for this very reason - to control their environment so that their anticipation-to-reward delivery systems can be maintained smoothly, maybe often as a result of previous trauma.


Mossling, you have a good point, It may be that those that seek money and power do so because of a subconscious idea of insecurity. Although, bear in mind that each one of us do obtain everything we desire. Be it money, power, image and ......death.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby newyear on June 25th, 2011, 6:28 pm 

Forest_Dump wrote:
newyear wrote:Although it is possible to classify certain cases, to group them, nevertheless, suicide is driven by a loss of a habitual perception. Be it physical or mental.


Well, it does appear to me that you are implying some kind of common or shared (sociological) factor rather than pure anomie. That, I think, was a key point by Durkheim - that things like suicide can be grouped and classified. It appears to me that you are just using a different classification or perhaps that all suicides are the same. I would definitely disagree with the latter.


Forest, you are correct in your assertion. I am not saying that the cause of suicide may be for various reasons, but there is one fundamental coincidence with all suicides, and that is the loss of a habitual perception. The loss a habitual perception can lead to depression, and in some cases death.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby cantab1956 on August 27th, 2011, 1:02 pm 

Camus is interesting on this when he claims the only real philosophical decision is whether or not to commit suicide. In the end, he says the body is ahead of the mind and rebels at the thought. There is then sufficient reason to continue, he says, even when our only freedom is to observe the sky from a prison cell...
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby afterword on August 27th, 2011, 7:05 pm 

The inability to cope. It can be a spouse's betrayal, the knowledge of an awful fate or the perceived loss of all hope.

Much depends on your threshold. Most of us can cope with a lot, and it is a good thing because there is a lot to cope with in this world. But some of us have trouble coping. Perhaps it is genetic, or perhaps not.

Even insane people kill themselves because they cannot cope.

There is an exception. Some people have no intention of really killing themselves, but make a slight miscalculation.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby Mossling on August 27th, 2011, 8:46 pm 

And again this prompts one to ask what, beyond genetics, dictates one's threshold, and what causes people, beyond genetics, to become mentally ill?

Every rational source I have come across points towards unresolved trauma.
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby neuro on August 28th, 2011, 3:13 pm 

afterword wrote:There is an exception. Some people have no intention of really killing themselves, but make a slight miscalculation.

This is quite on target: most times suicide is a cry, an extreme request to be looked at, listened, noticed...
most times it is just a proclaim, look, I want to suicide (and unhappily often one manages to)

In other words, most times suicide does not come from incapacity to cope, but rather from need to communicate (although I admit that this perspective may be vitiated by the importance I attribute to THE OTHER in everyone's affective life)
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Re: Reward-seeking behaviour & Suicide

Postby edy420 on August 28th, 2011, 10:40 pm 

Mossling wrote:Indulgence in an idea about a life free from pain projected into the future?


I think this is very true with most suicides in general.
I know two teens who committed suicide.

One was basically spoilt from his entire family and he was a very good kid.
His father died when he was young and his brothers and sister managed to cope, but he did not.
From that point onwards his school grades failed, he turned to crime and even started to join a gang when he became older.

He committed suicide because his girlfriend had an abortion, but if his father hadn't have died he would have been an extremely respectable man, much like his brothers.

I suspect that being free from pain is the reward.
Both young men had turned to heavy drug abuse, but that was most likely an early attempt at limiting the pain.
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