5 facts you didn't know about dopamine

studies have shown that dopamine is released when you derive pleasure from rewards such as food, sex, and a sense of accomplishment [1] whilst brain imaging scans have been able to highlight dopamine release in areas of the brain linked to motivation & learning [2]. Dopamine fasting and dopamine diets may have been stealing the headlines but here are 5 things you might not know about boosting dopamine.

1. dopamine informs your decision making

dopamine is a useful chemical messenger that informs decision-making as it enables you to anticipate the outcome of your action. Dopamine drives you towards positive outcomes and prevents you from following a negative outcome.

2. it modulates behaviour based on learnt experiences

when the reward outcome exceeds your expectation, we refer to this as a “positive prediction error” and it’s determined by dopamine[3]. Remember when you tried food that you thought you would dislike, such as oily fish only to realise you liked it? This modulates your behaviour as you become are less likely to be hesitant in the future.

when the reward outcome is worse than you expected dopamine signals a negative prediction error in your brain [4]. This can modulate your future behaviour as you would learn from this experience and find an alternative method to obtain the desired reward outcome.

*caveat - the modulation of future behaviour is unique to each individual and it’s dependent on the value you place on any given reward [5].

3. dopamine plays a role in motivational mindset

when you anticipate an event, it has been shown that dopamine levels spike and induce motivation and alertness. For example, people competing in an ironman triathlon are motivated to complete the race to derive a sense of accomplishment.

Dopamine is also one of the driving forces behind our sexual desires. When anticipating sexual activity, erotic stimuli triggers dopamine which encourages us to seek reward and pleasure. MRI scans revealed that whilst in a subconscious state, adults that looked at erotic images for 6 minutes had a surge of dopamine release and activity in reward-related brain areas [6].

4. dopamine is responsive to novelty

a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showed that novelty can evoke dopamine release which may motivate you to seek higher rewards [11] whilst evidence in macaque monkeys demonstrated a faster release of dopamine for unexpected rewards compared to expected rewards [7]. As the novelty wears off you can derive less pleasure hence shaking up routines can enhance sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships [9]. Enhancing novelty in exercise routines is also a key contributing factor to improving physical activity participation [10].

5. tyrosine is a building block to dopamine

There are nutritional building blocks to dopamine and serotonin. A natural dopamine increase can be obtained through dietary intake. Tyrosine is an amino acid found in protein-rich foods and it is the precursor to dopamine. brain feed also has 750mg natural tyrosine supplement made from fermented corn and you can read more the role of tyrosine here.

[1]Diederen et al. (2021) Dopamine, Prediction Error and Beyond. Neuroscientist, 27, 30–46.  [2]Salisbury, D. (2012) Dopamine impacts your willingness to work. [3]Ouden et al (2012) How prediction errors shape perception, attention, and motivation. Frontiers in Psychology. [4]Ouden et al. b(2012) How prediction errors shape perception, attention, and motivation. Frontiers in Psychology.[5] Levy, D. & Glimcher, P.W. (2012) The root of all value: a neural common currency for choice. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. [6]Schultz et al (1997) A Neural Substrate of Prediction and Reward. Science. [7]Grevet et al (2002) Behavioural effects of acute phenylalanine and tyrosine depletion in healthy male volunteers. Journal of Psychopharmacology. [8]Morton, H. & Gorzalka, B.B. (2014) Role of partner novelty in sexual functioning: a review. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. [9]The Conversation (2016) Can you revive the spark in a long-term relationship? Science reveals all. [10]Lackicevic et al (2020) Make Fitness Fun: Could novelty be the key determinant for psychical activity adherence?  [11]Bassareo et al (2002) Differential Expression of Motivational Stimulus Properties by Dopamine in Nucleus Accumbens Shell versus Core and Prefrontal Cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience. 

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