HR Strange But True!
November 11, 2010

You know at HRSBT, we can’t resist animal stories. Now we find that scientists can turn unproductive monkeys into workaholics with a little genetic tinkering. And this could mean that slackers could have a new excuse for malingering!

The original study, done at the National Institute of Mental Health in Washington, DC, proved that by blocking the D2 gene that controls the body’s use of the chemical dopamine (associated in the brain with the feeling of effort equals reward), monkeys who naturally wait for bananas to fall off a tree suddenly started climbing up the trees to pick them in a burst of energy.

In fact, says the story Globe and Mail, our primate cousins in the experiment who had no dopamine worked feverishly at tasks even when they received no compensation (bananas).

The paper surmises that our current cultural disconnect in North America for working 40+ hours per week and eschewing vacations, even in an economy where there are low or no raises or bonuses, may be based on a lack of dopamine. Why else would companies have vacation policies and work/life benefits that continually go unused?

However, the paper quotes Toronto psychologist Dr. Barbara Killenger, who specializes in treating workaholics, as saying that while the obsession to work is deeply ingrained, it may not be solely genetic. It may also be the result of society rewarding and glorifying this workaholic behaviour.

“We can no longer recognize the inherent cost of such behaviour. We’re like monkeys who have had our dopamine blocked,” says Dr. Killenger in the article. “You don’t feel real unless you’re doing something,” she said. “The lack of awareness [in workaholics] is just so problematic.”

What is the future use of this research? It’s the stuff of science fiction—and HR nightmares!


The Globe and Mail

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