dopamine is one of the many neurotransmitters that neurons use to communicate with each other. That means that dopamine plays a very important role in the synaptic spaces, the microscopic spaces in which nerve cells make connections with each other.

It is a substance produced by the human body itself, but can also be manufactured in laboratories.Specifically, dopamine was artificially synthesized by English biologists George Barger and James Ewens in 1910. Decades later, in 1952, Swedish scientists Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Åke Hillarp managed to unravel the functions and main characteristics of this neurotransmitter.

Dopamine-the neurotransmitter of pleasure… among other things

Dopamine, whose chemical formula is C6H3(OH)2-CH2-CH2-NH2 , is often mentioned as causing the pleasant sensations and the feeling of relaxation. However, with dopamine and the rest of neurotransmitters something happens that prevents these substances from being related to a very specific function: they influence to a greater or lesser extent all the functioning of the brain in general, all the emotional, cognitive and vital processes that take place at that moment.

This means that when dopamine or any other neurotransmitter is linked to specific emotional states or mental processes, it is because the appearance of the latter is related to an increase in the level of certain neurotransmitters in some areas of the brain linked to that state or process in question.

In the case of dopamine, its functions also include the coordination of certain muscle movements, the regulation of memory, the cognitive processes associated with learning and it has even been found to play an important role in decision-making.

The scientific community agrees that dopamine is also involved in the complex cognitive system that allows us to feel motivated and curious about some aspects of life.

1. Dopamine and your personality

But, does this neurotransmitter have anything to do with the personality of each individual? Well, it seems that it does. Dopamine could be one of the factors to take into account when it comes to knowing whether a person is more introverted or more extraverted, more cowardly or more courageous, or more confident or insecure.

Several investigations support this relationship between dopamine and personality. For example, a study conducted at the Charité University Clinic in Germany and published in Nature Neuroscience noted that the amount of dopamine found in a subject’s brain amygdala could be a reliable indicator of whether the subject is calm and collected, with good self-confidence, or whether he or she is fearful and prone to stress.

2. Overweight and obesity

In case you hadn’t noticed, not everyone feels the same level of pleasure when they taste a tasty chocolate cake, for example.

Interestingly, people who are prone to overweight and obesity have fewer dopamine receptors in their nervous system and therefore need to eat more cake to feel the same satisfaction that comes from eating something sweet. Let’s say that they are less sensitive to addictive tastes. This is the conclusion reached by some English researchers, thanks to a study published in Science.

3. A Taste for Strong Emotions

Are you one of those people who enjoys taking risks? Would you parachute in? Answering these questions may also have to do with your age, but there is a new element that, from neuroscience, has been detected as an important factor in predicting this propensity to enjoy risks and strong emotions.

Research from the University of British Columbia led by Stan Floresco and published in Medical Daily in 2014 reported that the increased presence of dopamine in certain brain regions in teenagers made them overly optimistic about their expectations and take too many risks .

4. Social status and satisfaction

Using different neuroimaging techniques, one study found that the better an individual’s social status, the greater the amount of dopamine D2 receptors located in his or her brain.

This makes them feel more satisfied with their life and therefore act accordingly; the objectives of a person with good self-image are not the same as those of a more pessimistic person in this aspect .

5. Key to creativity

Several research studies published in PLoS have found that people with a particularly creative mind t have a lower density of dopamine D2 receptors in a particular brain region: the thalamus.

This part of the brain’s main function is to filter the stimuli received by the brain’s cortex. This would facilitate the neuronal connections that allow us to associate concepts in a more efficient way, improving creativity.

6. Also regulates memory

Memory is also a brain function that is influenced by dopamine. Specifically, dopamine is responsible for regulating the duration of information (memories) , deciding whether to retain this information for only about 12 hours and then disappear, or whether to keep the information longer.

This ‘decision’ process by which a memory is either blurred or remains in our brain is very much related to the concept of meaningful learning. When we learn something we are happy with, dopamine activates the hippocampus to retain that information. Otherwise, dopamine does not activate the hippocampus and the memory is not stored in our memory.

7. Enhance motivation levels

Dopamine is often referred to as the neurotransmitter responsible for the sensation of pleasure, but recent findings show that its main function may be motivation.

For example, one study reported that the link between motivation and dopamine is true, since it was shown that the people most focused on meeting certain demanding goals had the most dopamine in their prefrontal cortex and in their striatum.

Bibliographic references:

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  • Mazziota et al. (2000). Brain mapping: the disorders. New York: Academic Press.
  • Streit, W.J. and Kincaid-Colton, C.A. (1996). The brain’s immune system. Research and Science. January. 16-21.