Brain implant results in non-stop self-stimulation

Mind Hacks found this research paper from 1986 about a 48-year-old woman who received a deep brain stimulation implant to help her cope with chronic pain.
Soon after insertion of the nVPL electrode, the patient noted that stimulation also produced erotic sensations. This pleasurable response was heightened by continuous stimulation at 75% maximal amplitude, frequently augmented by short bursts at maximal amplitude. Though sexual arousal was prominent, no orgasm occurred with these brief increases in stimulation intensity. Despite several episodes of paroxysmal atrial tachycardia [heart disturbance] and development of adverse behavioural and neurological symptoms during maximal stimulation, compulsive use of the stimulator developed.

At its most frequent, the patient self-stimulated throughout the day, neglecting personal hygiene and family commitments. A chronic ulceration developed at the tip of the finger used to adjust the amplitude dial and she frequently tampered with the device in an effort to increase the stimulation amplitude. At times, she implored her to limit her access to the stimulator, each time demanding its return after a short hiatus. During the past two years, compulsive use has become associated with frequent attacks of anxiety, depersonalization, periods of psychogenic polydipsia and virtually complete inactivity.

Erotic self-stimulation and brain implants


  1. Awesome post! As someone who studies addiction, I have to say this is a great example of how addiction is really a disease of the brain, only indirectly caused by substance use.

  2. Stephen R. Donaldson used this concept in his Gap Cycle of novels. it didn’t end well for the characters.

  3. I’ve seen other research that indicated that patients with similar ‘wires’ did not develop constant self-stimulation habits. After stimulation they experienced satiation and went on with their normal habits.

    I’d suppose that sticking wires into the brain and zapping it is still a young art and that future developments will lead to safe methods of stimulation (Probably with DRM built in so that you have to pay someone for each zap).

    I also read an article about some research where a woman had a small tube installed in her brain into which researchers could introduce a neurotransmitter directly (rather than causing the brain cells to produce it). A small dose would put her into an incapacitating and continuous orgasmic state for 30 minutes or so.

    Another one using a wire would put the patient into a ‘rage’ state, where he was consumed with a desire to kill the researcher. He could’t say why, but he experienced the emotion all the same.

  4. Reminds me of a lab assignment in my physio psych class in college. We helped the TAs implant an electrode in the basal ganglia (pleasure center) of a rat’s brain and then hooked that to a lever in the rat’s cage that it could press for stimulation.

    Our results weren’t as severe as past class’s (one rat would push the lever over and over without stopping to rest), but we did have to turn the lever off so that it would eat, drink and sleep. It was still kind of sad to see it run over every now and again to push the lever in hopes that it would get a high.

    The experiment was done with strict oversight from the AEEC, and the rats were well cared for, but it still gave me weird dreams.

  5. spider robinson deserves mention here, for ‘god is an iron’ and subsequently ‘mindkiller’, one of my faves (must find a copy now)

    God Is An Iron (1977)

    * I smelled her before I saw her. Even so, the first sight was shocking.

    * I had just seen the two most horrible things. The first was the smile. They say that when the bomb went off at Hiroshima, some people’s shadows were baked onto walls by it. I think that smile got baked on the surface of my brain in much the same way. I don’t want to talk about that smile.

    * Five days of wireheading alone should have killed her, never mind sudden cold turkey.

  6. There’s a bundle of nerves in the lower back whose designation I forget, that I seem to either remember (or perhaps personally suspect… *whistle nonchalantly*) that, when stimulated electronically, would be like mashing an orgasm button.

    Anybody heard of such a thing, or is it just my own weird imaginings?

  7. Can we pause to note that this paper is from 1986?

    Over twenty years ago this was being researched, and yet there is still no aisle in Target today that features these devices in an array of pleasing colors and battery sizes. Ok Science, get with it here already….

  8. William Gibson, Michael Crichton, Larry Niven… Cory kind of went there with Ownzored… brain interfaces and their pitfalls are a very popular sci-fi theme. Was Crichton first?

    The moral of these stories: Hotwiring your brain is very much inside the firewall. There is literally no way to think about something that short-circuits the prefrontal cortex and directly stimulates the limbic system.

    Scientists have done this to lab animals for years. Rig an electrode to turn on arousal (or turn off hunger and thirst) and that rat will keep pressing the button until it drops. Stimulate them hard enough to override the Reticular Activating System, and it’ll do it until it dies.

    Deep brain stimulation is just the beginning, and it’s very inexact. For that matter, so are psychoactive substances (prescribed or otherwise). Once we figure out how to accurately stimulate the sensory and cognitive areas, the real fun begins.

  9. #22: “There’s a bundle of nerves in the lower back whose designation I forget, that I seem to either remember (or perhaps personally suspect… *whistle nonchalantly*) that, when stimulated electronically, would be like mashing an orgasm button.

    Anybody heard of such a thing, or is it just my own weird imaginings?”

    Definitely heard of this. Unlike the situation in the article, this device was linked to something in the spinal column and would induce immediate orgasms at the right settings. I remember reading something about the doctor trying to develop the technology into an implant that could help people with sexual dysfunction, but I haven’t heard anything since.

  10. I was going to comment about “The Terminal Man” but since that’s already been touched upon, I’ll throw out the following Dennis Miller quote about virtual reality instead:

    “The day an unemployed iron worker can lay in his Baracalounger with a Fosters in one hand and a channel flicker in the other and fuck Claudia Schiffer for $19.95, it’s gonna make crack look like Sanka.”

  11. I’m reminded of early experiments to control zombies with brain electrodes.

    They didn’t work.

    They did, however, find that they could make soldiers fearless in the face of the undead.

    These soldiers would bravely get themselves devoured.

    Fear is a gift of evolution. Use it to escape the horde!

  12. Actually there was some research done with Rodentia (which was actually touched on in Terminal Man slightly) where the subjects had their pleasure centres wired up to a button that gave a short but pleasurable jolt… mostly they went about their day until they brushed up against the button, took em a bit but they figured out what brought the wonderful sensation, and eventually found themselves either dying of malnutrition, or heart failure as they couldn’t push the button fast enough… I used to have a URL that pointed to the specific research paper but that was like 4 or 5 computers ago, and numerous installs later… I probably have it archived SOMEWHERE, but thats a LOT of mediums to go through.

  13. smellybug@27: “My god that’s an old story. Like 5 years old…”

    Er, did you read the first sentence of the post, Smellybug? It’s 22 years old, not 5.

  14. SC_WOLF:
    Or, as Scott Adams put it in The Dilbert Future, a holodeck would be humanity’s last invention because we’d all lock ourselves in and starve to death while living out our sexual fantasies.

  15. There are definitely worse ways to die than orgasming to death. Seriously. You could get hit by a bus or something. Might as well die happy, huh?

    Just a thought.

  16. @ Glossolalia Black:

    If I remember correctly, it starts in the brain, then is monitored by those nerves in the lower back. Orgasm is achieved when the body decides the genitalia has been lubed-up and excited enough to best transfer the semen. Because if it was all up to your brain, most of us would just screw to death. Or “tennis elbow” would be a lot more common.

  17. Rewarding deep brain stimulation has been used to motivate rats and other animals to do heavy exercise and learn new skills(ref 1,2,3,4), and could similarly help people perform difficult behaviors like physical exercise, learning or research:

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