2.16 What is Dopamine? – Definition & Function

Jan 18, 2020 | ch2 Biological Bases of Behaviour, Courses, Intro to Psychology

In this lesson, learn what dopamine is and how to identify its effects on the body. Afterward, take a quiz to determine your understanding of the function of this amazing chemical.

What Is Dopamine?

When studying the biological basis of behavior, it is important to understand the effect and properties of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body. Over the past 60 years, dopamine has been studied extensively and has been written about in over 110,000 research articles, mainly identifying its relationship with Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction and mood disorders. At the same time, it has been at the forefront of controversy within the psychological and neuroscience fields.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body.

 

Functions of Dopamine

Dopamine is produced in three different areas of the brain: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), substantia nigra pars compacta and hypothalamus. These three areas of the brain affect different bodily functions, such as movement, memory, sleep, mood, pleasurable reward, behavior and cognition.

It’s also interesting to see how important dopamine is in our everyday lives. If you are feeling nauseous or sick, it could be because your dopamine levels are low. Dopamine is known to help control nausea and vomiting due to interactions with other chemicals being released into our body.

Sensation-Seeking Behaviors

Dopamine has been identified as the body’s reward activator, controlling the pleasure center of our brain while encouraging us to engage in thrill-seeking activities. Let’s look at an example of someone that has high levels of dopamine in their chemical makeup. People in this category are believed to gravitate towards taking risks, such as skydiving and bungee jumping.

People with low levels of dopamine in their body have been hypothesized to be more prone to addictive behaviors. It has been observed that somebody with lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine are more likely to use and abuse drugs or consume too much food. These unhealthy behaviors release dopamine into the body, thus contributing to a cycle of addiction.

Low levels of dopamine have been linked to increased susceptibility to alcoholism and drug addiction.

The topic of dopamine and addiction poses the question: What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do low levels of dopamine contribute to addiction, or does chronic drug use lead to low levels of dopamine? This is a question that scientists are exploring as research continues.

Parkinson’s Disease

As a chemical messenger, dopamine is essential for smooth, controlled movement of the body. So it’s not surprising to learn that lower levels of dopamine have been linked to Parkinson’s disease. If you have ever seen someone with Parkinson’s disease, you will notice that they tend to move and shake uncontrollably. This is because nerve cells in the brain die and are unable to produce healthy amounts of dopamine.

Lesson Summary

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body. It’s responsible for many functions, including memory, sleep, mood, pleasurable reward, behavior and cognition. High dopamine levels have been linked to engaging in risky thrill-seeking activities, such as skydiving and bungee jumping. People that have low levels of dopamine in their system are known to be more at risk of addiction to drugs, food, sex and other behaviors that lead to the release of this chemical.

Low levels of dopamine have also been linked to a movement disorder called Parkinson’s disease. This illness is responsible for killing nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, which is necessary for smooth and controlled movement. This is why people with Parkinson’s disease shake or move uncontrollably. Over the past 60 years, dopamine has been studied within both the psychological and neuroscience fields. The question of whether low levels of dopamine contribute to addiction or chronic drug use contributes to low levels of dopamine will continue to be explored by researchers.

About Dopamine

Dopamine is responsible for many functions
  • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced in three different areas of the brain
  • Dopamine is responsible for many functions in the body, including pleasurable reward, movement and memory
  • Low dopamine levels have been linked to addictive behaviors and high levels have been linked to thrill-seeking behaviors
  • Parkinson’s disease is linked to low dopamine levels because the disease kills nerve cells in dopamine areas of the brain

Learning Outcomes

When you are finished, you should be able to:

  • State what dopamine is and where it is created
  • List the functions of dopamine
  • Discuss how abnormal dopamine levels affect personality
  • Explain how dopamine is implicated in Parkinson’s disease
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