Dopamine maximization blackhole

Harpreet Vishnoi
2 min readDec 18, 2023
Photo by George Evans on Unsplash

I recently worked on a project at CMU where my team designed a content recommendation engine that understands the mental state of a user. We initially ask the user a few easy questions about mental health. If we see user behavior changing, consistent with mindlessly scrolling or anxiously scrolling, we alter the content of the media to elevate the user’s mood.

When to draw the line? Our idea was to act in the user’s interest when the user is not in the right mindset to close the app and take a break. User autonomy and content are only altered in the algorithm when the user is anxious.

Companies like TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram sooner or later have to implement more features that cut users off from their dopamine supply, just like a bartender does to a person drinking in excess. In both scenarios, the user is too deep in their mental state, and dopamine maximization is the only goal, deprioritizing other things in their life.

Currently, Instagram’s algorithm is infamous for suggesting sexualized and violent content for increasing the user time on app. Even Joe Rogan talks about how his timeline is filled with content which is addictive and makes him feel worse.

Thread app activation from Instagram

Just as ChatGPT did to Google Search in terms of improving the quality of responses, this gap in social media, is its Achilles’ heel.

The more mentally sustainable using social media is, the better long term retention numbers we will see. This prioritization will likely come into picture when a new startup comes into the picture.



Harpreet Vishnoi

Carnegie Mellon University| Product Manager | AI Developer