Deep Brain Stimulation
Okun and Foote have seen firsthand the power of their “pretty crude” technology to affect mood and emotion. They even filmed it and presented it to an audience as part of a talk they gave in 2012. In the video, a woman undergoing a DBS operation to alleviate her debilitating obsessive-compulsive disorder beams with joy and laughs when, during the normal course of the successful procedure, Okun and Foote “tickle” a region near her nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain associated with pleasure, reward, motivation and other complex phenomena.
“Describe what you’re feeling right now,” Okun says. With an ecstatic smile on her face, in a voice giddy with joy, the woman replies, “I feel happy.”
It’s an extraordinary moment, and a powerful demonstration of DBS’s potential as a treatment for disorders like major depression. It’s also unsettling, a peek into a possible future where human happiness is the product not of the experiences and relationships that make up a life, not even of mood-altering medications, but of an elective surgical procedure, a face-lift for the brain.