After completing medical school, Dr. Daniel Lieberman spent four years training to be a psychiatrist at New York City’s famous Bellevue Hospital, known as the “Noah’s Ark” of psychiatric illnesses. Many of his patients were living with schizophrenia, an illness associated with an imbalance in a brain chemical called dopamine, and characterized by hallucinations and delusions.
In 1996 he joined the faculty of George Washington University as part of a team treating patients addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Addiction is another dopamine-related condition, causing people to experience craving so intense that their free will is compromised. Later, Dan contributed to a textbook on bipolar disorder, a condition featuring dopamine over-activity that results in heightened states of energy, euphoria, enthusiasm, and creativity. He noted that relatives of people with bipolar disorder, who share some of the genes associated with the illness, are more likely than others to become artists, actors, and entrepreneurs.
This led to a question: How can dopamine be associated with such a broad range of characteristics, from mental illness to business acumen and imagination? His research uncovered a web of connections that included such far-flung topics as love, sex, genius, greed, and even the genetic roots of political ideology.