What makes something satisfying: The Science of Satisfaction

Photo by Milad Fakurian from unspash

Introduction

If you have been on the internet for long enough, you have probably come across those oddly satisfying videos. If you have never seen such videos, you may argue there is no way people will spend their time watching cheese or slime getting cut. But these videos have millions of views, and once you start watching them, you will find it hard to stop. So what makes something satisfying? A lot of research is still underway to understand what these videos do to our brains. In this article, we will be discussing what we know about satisfaction and pleasure.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD in short, is a disorder in the brain’s satisfaction circuit. People with OCD constantly struggle with getting things to feel correct or finished.
Based on recent studies, we now know that there are three parts of the brain that are involved in OCD:
1. Orbital Cortex: Recognizes when something is not how it should be.
2. Cingulate Gyrus: Gives the vague feeling that people with OCD get (you might not be able to feel this if you don’t have OCD).
3. Caudate Nucleus: Signals once something has been done that solves the issue. In OCD patients, this part of the brain is much smaller, and it hardly gets activated.

Here is a fun song on OCD that can explain the situation of a person with OCD.
Hypothalamic obesity is a condition in which people do not get the feeling of satisfaction when they eat, and they over-eat chasing that feeling of satisfaction.
People with OCD do not get this satisfaction signal from the brain either. So they keep repeating the task chasing that feeling of satisfaction.

Completing Tasks

There is an old idea in psychology that we tend to remember unfinished tasks more than finished tasks. Zeigarnik conducted a series of experiments to test this idea. She asked some selected candidates to complete a series of 18–20 simple tasks. The candidates in the control group were allowed to complete all the tasks whereas, the other candidates in the experimental group were interrupted halfway through their task completion. She found that the candidates who were interrupted could remember the tasks better (probably because unfinished tasks bug the hell out of people) than the candidates who completed all tasks. This effect is known as Zeigarnik Effect in psychology.

Completing tasks feel good, and it releases dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals are also released when you see things being done, and done correctly.

“Pleasure indicates something is biologically useful” — Jaak Panksepp.

Suppose you are feeling hungry. Then you eat to resolve the issue, and you feel good.

Opioid receptors are the pleasure receptors in the brain. They play a role in the pleasure someone gets from everything, like eating food or getting a hug. But it also needs a stop signal, or the person will keep on eating or hugging.

What makes certain sounds satisfying?

Some sounds are satisfying because they are pieces of feedback that something has been done correctly. These sounds provide feedback in an attention-seeking way without going against the person’s auditory library or causing irritation via repetition. What makes them more satisfying is when they are combined with the context of the person seeing something being done correctly. Everyone finds different sounds satisfying. Clearer sounds are generally more satisfying. Preferring a clear sound might have something to do with the pleasure receptors — opioids. We have opioid receptors in the auditory cortex of the brain. The ability of these receptors to pick up noise can be enhanced by certain drugs.

What makes oddly satisfying videos satisfying?

Scientists are yet to fully understand the effect of these videos on our brain, but we can relate to two possibilities:
1. Watching these videos is similar to mindfulness (focusing on the present moment and acknowledging and accepting thoughts and feelings), and flow (state of creative concentration when an activity is at the right level of difficulty).
2. The videos tend to be colorful and geometric. Seeing things getting done correctly is also responsible for the release of dopamine and serotonin. We know that there are some features we tend to like better than others. We prefer circles and curved lines over sharp-edged polygons. We like symmetry.
These videos combine everything we like and find satisfying — colors, symmetric objects, soothing music, and repetition.

Conclusion

Oddly satisfying videos are relaxing and satisfying to watch. So go ahead and watch some if you haven’t already, and you will feel their power. A lot of research is still required to fully understand their effect.
Hope you learned something new from this article!

Thanks for reading, and take care! 👋

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Jyotisko Sengupta

Jyotisko Sengupta

Blogs about programming, science, computers, and anything else I find interesting!

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