The Checkup: Slackers, Blame Your Brain

Researchers unearthed clues for why some people are less motivated than others. I'm going to go ahead and dub this "Spicoli Syndrome."

• Everybody’s known a Jeff Spicoli at some point in their lives—you know, Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the archetypical high school stoner/slacker you can’t help but love, but who you know is going nowhere in life and, well, fast. That guy. Anyway, science tells us today that we shouldn’t hold anything against the slacker Spicolis in our lives. Because, you see, the reason they’re so unmotivated to do anything could have something to do with their brain chemistry. A team at Vanderbilt University conducted a small study which looked at brain activity. They found that go-getter types show higher levels of dopamine in the reward centers of their brains—the areas that control motivation—while slackers had high dopamine levels in the parts of their brains responsible for emotion and and risk perception. If you’re a parent of a slacker (I do not envy you), don’t fret. Here’s a tidbit of good news from study co-author David Zald: “At this point, we don’t have any data proving that this 20-minute snippet of behavior corresponds to an individual’s long-term achievement, but if it does measure a trait variable such as an individual’s willingness to expend effort to obtain long-term goals, it will be extremely valuable.” Who wants to bet that someday someone will come up with a treatment for Spicoli Syndrome? You heard it here first, folks.

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