In my story, one of the main characters (Joe) has been born with a somewhat superpower: Any person near him will have elevated neurotransmitter levels. If their brain is releasing happy neurotransmitters, then they will feel even more happy when in Joe's vicinity. If they are sad, they will verge on depression when the he approaches. This is the handwave, the upshot to all this is that any person nearby will experience stronger emotions.

My question is what effects the company of Joe will have over time. If they are friends of Joe, will they be addicted to his presence? If they are captives, will they die of a heart attack if they receive a sudden shock? Or are neurotransmitters not this magical?

  • $\begingroup$ It probably depends on many factors. How much reinforcement that does, where does he live, who are the people close to him, etc. As such I am not sure your question can be answered as per the standards of WB.SE. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Dec 15 '18 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ You might look at some of the recent research on autism. There is some evidence that endorphins play a role - suppressing endorphins in some folks with autism results in normal social behaviors. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 15 '18 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Totillity: your question as written is far too broad. Please edit to focus on one single issue or problem. For example, pick one neurotransmitter and a reasonable range of increase. VTC for being too broad. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Dec 15 '18 at 17:04

The answer is a very massive "it depends."

Some neturotransmitters, such as Seratonin appear to have positive effects, so increasing them would be desirable.

On the other hand:

Specifically, Sarin is a potent inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that degrades the neurotransmitter acetylcholine after it is released into the synaptic cleft. In vertebrates, acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter used at the neuromuscular junction, where signals are transmitted between neurons from the central nervous systems to muscle fibres. Normally, acetylcholine is released from the neuron to stimulate the muscle, after which it is degraded by acetylcholinesterase, allowing the muscle to relax. A build-up of acetylcholine in the synaptic cleft, due to the inhibition of cholinesterase, means the neurotransmitter continues to act on the muscle fibre, so that any nerve impulses are effectively continually transmitted.

So more seratonin = good. More acetylcholine = die a very painful death asphyxiating while all your muscles seize uncontrollably

They say the poison's in the dose, but in this case, its more a question of which poison.


A rather short-time effect would be that people would not be able to function anymore.

Neurotransmitters don't just dissappear the second we stop feeling happy or sad. They're chemicals that still course through the body, especially if a great amount of them was set free. More importantly, our bodies are designed to react to very small amounts of them. The systems of people around Joe would be so flooded with a mix of of differend transmitters that they would effectively be stoned all the time. Depending on which emotions they felt, it would be like a drug high or a bad trip or a mix of both.

Addiction or desensization to those transmitters would occur long-term, but even short-term these people wouldn't be able to think and act rationally. To an outsider they would seem druged or manic, stupid with love or hysteric. Their behavior would be immediately categorized as extreme.


What are the long term effects of increased neurotransmitters?

Not recommended. This post only covers two as there are so many to chose from here.

Trouble with neurotransmitters is that they act in a kind of ballance with each other - some counteracting the effects of others in a complex way.

Taking just two: A little of a good thing is alright, a lot of a good thing can put you in a coma, make your muscles dissolve and eventually kill you, or alternativley make you hypersexual, aggressivley psychotic, grandiose, or give you a compulsion to go shopping:


Serotonin syndrome (or storm) occurs when there's too much released at once, or not enough being re-taken up.

  • Cognitive effects: headache, agitation, hypomania, mental confusion, hallucinations, coma.

  • Autonomic effects: shivering, sweating, hyperthermia, vasoconstriction, tachycardia, nausea, diarrhea. Body temperature can increase to greater than 41.1 °C (106.0 °F).

  • Somatic effects: myoclonus (muscle twitching), hyperreflexia (manifested by clonus), tremor. Complications may include seizures and extensive muscle breakdown.


Too much or too little of this reward motivational neurotransmitter has interesting effects:

  • The low: dysphoria, characterized by sadness, psychomotor slowing, fatigue or apathy are typical with dopamine [withdrawal].

  • On it's release: Hypomania, manifesting with feelings of euphoria, omnipotence, or grandiosity, are prone to appear in those moments when [effects] are maximum.

  • The high: Different impulse control disorders have been described including gambling, compulsive shopping, eating disorders and hypersexuality. Behavioral disturbances, most commonly aggressive tendencies, are the norm. Psychosis is also common.

There is a great deal of complex interaction between all the nurotransmitters, it would be difficult to precisley predict what strange behaviours could emerge - think anything crazy you have ever heard of people doing - that could perhaps happen.


If they are friends of Joe, will they be addicted to his presence?

This is complicated.

The first thing you have to take into account is that the happy people around Joe will have an unbalanced amount of some neurotransmitters related to the feeling of content, joy or whatever. I am not a doctor, but to me this seems similar to having taken some kind of antidepressant drug without having any medical need for it.

Science itself does not have a definitive answer about whether antidepressants are addictive:

Antidepressant dependence can form in people who never needed the drugs in the first place. Some people are incorrectly diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants. According to one study, doctors misdiagnosed almost two-thirds of patients with depression and prescribed unnecessary antidepressants.

Doctors still debate the addictive nature of antidepressants. Most consider these drugs non-addictive. Others point to the withdrawal symptoms of antidepressants as evidence that a dependence can form. People who suddenly stop taking antidepressants often have withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, hand tremors and depression.

To complicate things, your character is not giving people around him a dose of antidepressants - he is giving them pure neurotransmitters, so it's even more difficult for us layspeople (and I think even for doctors too) to predict what would happen.

Now, while we don't know whether feelings of joy would make people addicted, I think feelings of sadness would. If you ever knew someone who was a goth or emo as a teenager you know what I am talking about. I lived close to a place which was a magnet for emos. I could hardly ever feel sad myself because just looking at them made me feel [expletive] happy by comparison, and that emo thing lasted like a decade.

If they are captives, will they die of a heart attack if they receive a sudden shock? Or are neurotransmitters not this magical?

Whenever you hear something about someone dying from a heart attack due to some sad news, usually it's an elderly person who had some heart condition, and there are.other stresses involved; the sudden sadness is just the last drop that does them in, but there is always more to that. If sadness could kill through heart attack, every mother who had their child killed violently or unexpectedly would die too.


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