Medicines for Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, turned some patients into compulsive gamblers or sex addicts. The medicine floods the nucleus accumbens with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that the central nervous system needs to properly function. The dopamine deluge sometimes creates uncontrollable urges to gamble, or have sex. In 2005, Boehringer-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, maker of Mirapex, a Parkinson’s drug, listed compulsive gambling as a potential drug side effect.
Knutson, who is interested in human emotion, not finance, has since received more than $400,000 from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. (The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulates most of Wall Street’s activities.) Since the 2007 financial crisis, the group is increasingly interested in understanding how people make financial decisions, because many of those decisions produce unexpected results.