Functions of Dopamine: What is Dopamine and How Does It Affect you?


The functions of dopamine are too many to count. Dopamine is an extremely famous neurotransmitter working in your brain. Whenever you want to learn anything about neuroscience, dopamine always comes into the discussion. This chemical is one of the central power-drivers for all the work of your brain. Without dopamine, you would be quite un-human, since it’s the key force behind most of our actions and interpersonal relationships. If you would like to learn some of the roles dopamine plays in your lifestyle, here is a list of nine different ways this type of neurotransmitter affects your life.

functions of dopamine

Functions of Dopamine- What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a molecule that our body produces naturally, and it’s the substance that’s behind our dreams and biggest secrets. Dopamine means lust, love, infidelity, motivation, attention, femininity, learning, and addiction.


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Dopamine is like a chemical messenger in the brain, which is technically known as a neurotransmitter and is responsible for sending signals from the central nervous system. It is what allows information to be passed from one neuron to another.

Dopamine’s effects on the brain depend on a few different factors and is influenced by the other types of neurons that its combined with. Scientists originally thought that this substance was related to real pleasure, the pleasure that we’ve experienced. However, it’s recently been argued that dopamine is more related to anticipatory pleasure and motivation.

1. Functions of dopamine and movement

The main structure in your brain that controls all sorts of bodily movements is the basal ganglia (how do the basal ganglia work?). In order for your basal ganglia to function at peak efficiency, it relies on the secretion of a specific amount of dopamine from neighboring neurons. When not enough dopamine reaches the basal ganglia, voluntary motions may become delayed or uncoordinated, which is common in Parkinson’s disease. However, if the basal ganglia receive too much dopamine, it will cause the body to make unnecessary movements, specifically repetitive tics that are a common symptom of Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome.

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2. Functions of dopamine and memory

In the prefrontal cortex, the main part of the brain associated with higher-ordered thinking, dopamine secretions help to improve your working memory. The levels of dopamine here are extremely delicate so even slight increases or decreases to the normal amount can cause your memory to suffer.

Since dopamine affects your memory, it also affects your learning processes and how you retain information. When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we will remember it; however, if it is absent, we usually won’t remember a thing. Dopamine is tied to your reward center, so if you don’t feel interested in specific activities or learning certain subjects, then dopamine levels will decrease in your prefrontal cortex. If this happens, then your brain will not feel the motivation to remember the facts presented to you.

Functions of Dopamine-Memory

Functions of Dopamine-Memory

This is helpful to note mainly for teachers who might wonder why their students are not retaining information from class although they were given thorough explanations. In order to increase a learner’s motivation (and therefore increase his or her levels of dopamine), then an acronym to help is NER. You have to present your content in a way that is New, Exciting, and Rewarding. New – novelty ways of teaching, new technology, new textbooks. Exciting – adventurous, hands-on, problem-solving tasks. Rewarding – reinforcement by giving awards, praises, and other ways of boosting your learner’s self-esteem.

3.Functions of dopamine and attention

Dopamine allows you to keep focused and pay attention. It works by responding to vision (the optic nerves), which causes you to direct your attention to any specific task or activity. This neurotransmitter may be responsible for what content stays in your short-term memory, a portion of your prefrontal cortex associated with immediate attention. When the dopamine concentration is too low here, then this could lead to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

4. Functions of dopamine and pleasure and understanding rewards

functions of dopamine

Dopamine is the central chemical in your brain that regulates how you perceive and experience pleasure. During pleasurable moments or situations, this neurotransmitter is released, which causes a person to seek out a desirable activity over and over again. Eating (especially foods with high levels of sugar) and having sexual intercourse are stimulants of dopamine being released in the brain. This is the reason why these activities are usually enjoyable and why people continuously engage in them.

5. Functions of dopamine and processing pain

Along with exciting experiences, dopamine is also released when you encounter unwanted or aversive stimuli, like when you receive a paper cut or you get into a messy argument with your best friend.

6. Functions of dopamine and mood

Because dopamine is the chemical that promotes feelings of pleasure, it makes us look forward to enjoying life and various activities. Sometimes called “The Molecule of Happiness,” dopamine tends to be the scientific explanation for why we can be happy or experience satisfaction. New research suggests that this chemical messenger may play a role in depression, along with the other neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

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7. Functions of dopamine and addictions

For most addiction-causing drugs, they work by targeting the dopamine neurotransmitters in your brain. Drugs like cocaine and amphetamines inhibit the re-uptake of dopamine in each synapse available. What this means is that usually, a synapse is composed of a neuron that is releasing a specific neurotransmitter and another neuron that is receiving the said neurotransmitter with a gap between the two called a synaptic cleft.

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Neurons communicate with each other through different means, and one of these involves the process of reuptake. Reuptake refers to what happens after the neurotransmitter is released from the first neuron. In order to recycle the neurotransmitter, the first neuron will absorb what it has released after the neurotransmitter’s job has completed and then re-use it again when necessary. Re-uptake also controls the amount of the said neurotransmitter available for the brain’s usage so that an excessive amount is not present.

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“Current work is looking at whether exercise can normalize fuctions of  dopamine signaling that has been changed by chronic drug use, as this may provide key support of how exercise could serve as a treatment strategy for substance abuse”- Panayotis (Peter) Thanos

functions of dopamine

So, because cocaine and amphetamines inhibit the reuptake of dopamine, they are stopping neurons from reabsorbing the used dopamine, so it stays present in the brain for longer periods of time. This extra dopamine causes one to experience heightened feelings of pleasure and addiction in wanting more of the drug.

8. Functions of dopamine and behavior and cognition

Dopamine that is released in the frontal lobe of the brain regulates the flow of information received from other areas of the brain. If there are disorders in this region, then neurocognitive functions could decline, such as problem-solving abilities.

9. Functions of dopamine and sleep

Increased levels of dopamine in the brain are associated with increased feelings of wakefulness. Usually, your brain secretes more dopamine during the daytime so that you can stay awake and feel energized. However, when the night comes, dopamine levels are decreased, and the chemical melatonin is secreted so that you feel sleepy during dark hours. This is why Parkinson’s disease patients tend to feel chronic sleepiness – because they are always lacking in dopamine being released. Patients who suffer from psychosis or schizophrenia have an exceedingly high amount of dopamine in their brains, so they usually take antipsychotic medications because of these lower their dopamine levels and allow them to feel calm, tranquil, and sleepy.

10. Functions of dopamine and motivation

Many studies establish that this neurotransmitter not only rewards us but actually acts before that. Dopamine is liberated to achieve something good and avoid the bad. Lack of dopamine is characteristic in disorders where there is little to no motivation or anhedonia.

11. Functions of dopamine and creativity

Studies suggest a relationship between the dopaminergic center and creativity. Receptors of dopamine are linked to the divergent thought process. Creative people, as well as schizophrenic people, have more density of these receptors in the thalamus. This means that it intervenes in cognition and reasoning and more information will flow through the brain. That is why creative people tend to solve problems making strange associations because they have more unusual connections in the brain.

12. Functions of dopamine and personality

One of the personality traits that define us most is our level of extraversion. Extraversion has two main components: social interaction and impulsivity. This trait is highly dependent on dopamine. Several studies show that impulsive people activate dopamine circuits quicker than others. However, these people have more risk to develop dangerous impulsive behaviors. 

What happens if I have too much or too little dopamine?

Some diseases or problems are caused by a lack or excess of dopamine.

When we have too little dopamine, we tend to feel bored, unmotivated, or depressed. It’s also possible to experience anhedonia, which makes it difficult to feel and enjoy pleasure. Some common problems that are characterized by low levels of dopamine are depression, social phobia, ADHD, and Parkinson’s Disease, which is why the medication generally prescribed for these problems increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. These medications help to increase dopamine in small doses, as it can become addictive.

These disorders (except Parkinson’s) aren’t caused by the lack of dopamine, but rather by a decrease of actively looking for pleasant stimuli and poor motivation. This is related to a decrease in dopamine production. However, Parkinson’s causes the degeneration of the areas that produce dopamine, which is called substantia nigra

High levels of dopamine are associated with mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Medications to treat these disorders usually prescribe dopamine inhibitors, which makes the dopamine take longer to go from neuron to neuron.

How does dopamine play a role in addiction?

Addiction implies an intense desire for something, loss of control of its use, and continuing to use it in spite of the negative consequences it implies. Addiction changes brain structure and modifies how the brain registers pleasure.

The repetitive exposure to addictive substances or behavior causes nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that’s used in planning and decision making) communicate with each other. This causes us to associate liking something and wanting it, making us go after it. This is the process that motivates us to search for the cause of pleasure.

This mechanism was originally beneficial for humans, as it helped our ancestors relate pleasure to essential substances that they needed to live, like food and sex.

The accumulation of dopamine in the brain makes it continue to create new dopamine receptors. Over time, the brain adapts and dopamine stops having the same effect as it did originally, which causes us to search for more of what we crave. This effect is called tolerance. 

Addictions without substance

These are called impulse control disorders and are the type of behavioral addictions. They are addictions to behaviors, such as compulsive shopping, addiction to technology, work, sex, gambling. These disorders have many similarities with substance abuse.

As with substance addictions, when we feel bad, tense or anxious, our behavior will eliminate those negative feelings and seek for pleasure. Therefore, you will be more likely to repeat this behavior. However, the levels of dopamine produced by the behavior are high but normal. They are not artificially raised, as with drugs.

It does not create a physical dependence and is not so harmful to the brain.

So, can dopamine lead to addiction?

Despite dopamine’s bad reputation because it has been linked to addictions dopamine per se cannot lead to an addiction.

For example, it would be difficult to become addicted to curiosity. Just as when we are curious about something, the brain releases a lot of dopamine. But the body can eliminate it at a constant rate, keeping a balance. It also depends a lot on the characteristics of each person and how they can control the impulses.

Dopamine serves to maintain motivation and promote learning. It also allows us to fall in love, get excited and enjoy when we see a beautiful sunset, or when we see that car that we both want. The small pleasures are controlled by dopamine and who wants to give them up? Dopamine is not bad, but as with everything, a balance is needed. We just can not stay all the way to the top of the dopamine, because that would end up generating an addiction. However, dopamine alone does not cause addiction. They are compulsive behaviors looking for that peak of dopamine which leads to an addiction.

We just can’t produce large amounts of dopamine and stay there because we would end up generating an addiction. However, dopamine alone does not cause addiction. They are compulsive behaviors looking for that peak of dopamine which leads to an addiction.

Functions of Dopamine- Cocaine neuron

Functions of Dopamine- Cocaine neuron

Is the happiness we feel real or false?

When the brain releases dopamine in response to natural stimuli, the happiness we feel is real. In contrast, when it is the product of an activation by a drug, it is an artificial “happiness”.  Dopamine is the one that is most related to the sensation of pleasure and the motivation to seek that pleasure. Serotonin is considered the pleasure and mood hormone. And the endorphins are those that increase our sense of well-being, improve the humor and we produce happiness.

Dopamine is the one that is most related to the sensation of pleasure and the motivation to seek that pleasure. Serotonin is considered the pleasure and mood hormone. And the endorphins are those that increase our sense of well-being and improve our humor.

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Radiyyah is an undergraduate student at Macaulay Honors College and Queens College. She is currently pursuing a double Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Neuroscience with a minor in Sociology. Radiyyah is passionate about all fields relating to the brain and social psychology and she hopes to continue her career in Neuropsychology research.