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How does the releasing of dopamine in the brain cause people to feel good?
Question Date: 2009-02-16
Answer 1:

Your question is very interesting. I will explain what dopamine is and how it is involved in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical made in the body and it is primarily located in the brain. It is a type of neurotransmitter, and this means that the brain has specific parts, called receptors, that deal with just dopamine. As a drug, the molecule L-dopa is used because it can cross into the fatty tissue that protects otherwise harmful things from entering the brain. It is used to treat Parkinson's, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Schizophrenia.

You should keep in mind that neuroscientists who study dopamine use animals. With that said, most of the results you might have read are from giving rats or other mammals pleasurable stimuli and measuring the neurochemical brain response; the inverse is to chemically alter the dopamine levels (sometimes by reducing it to by almost 99% in certain studies) and observing the effect on the animal. Although many researchers believe that dopamine increases when we consume things we like, some argue that dopamine is more involved with the desire or motivation of wanting that pleasure. Please keep in mind that it's a big leap to make statements about human emotions and feelings from these animal models.

Although it is plausible that the reason for this is due to the brain, other explanations should also be entertained. For example, emotion is a high level complex phenomena, and we should not be quick to just reduce it to levels of dopamine activity. The point is that the neurobiological explanation should not be the most convincing just because it is more 'scientific'. We can provide different explanations especially when we think of how art, music, and love make us feel.

Answer 2:

As you may already know, dopamine is a signaling molecule called a neurotransmitter. Receptors on the surface of neurons recognize neurotransmitters and, depending on factors such as the type and concentration of the neurotransmitters, the neuron will respond in a specific manner.

Dopamine can activate a variety of neuronal receptors located in several different areas in the brain. This diversity allows dopamine to affect many different functions in the brain, including motor control, learning, attention, motivation, emotion, and feeling pain or pleasure.In a general sense, dopamine acts to reinforce positive or rewarding experiences, such as eating. The release of dopamine stimulates feelings of satisfaction or enjoyment, which then become associated with the rewarding experience. This association gives the person motivation or a desire to seek out that experience again. In a very oversimplified view, your brain is hardwired to recognize dopamine as a signal for something 'good'.

Considering all the different roles that dopamine plays in your body, you can imagine that a disruption in dopamine signaling can lead to major problems. Too much or too little dopamine signaling is linked to many diseases and neurological problems ranging from mood disorders and depression to drug addiction to Parkinson's disease. While researchers have come a long way in identifying effects and mechanisms of dopamine signaling, much work is still needed to fully understand the complex responses it induces in the brain. If you are interested, the wikipedia page on dopamine is a pretty good source for some basic information:


Answer 3:

As far as I know, the physiology of emotions is still very poorly understood. We know that dopamine is related to pleasure, but the mechanism is elusive at best. My personal suspicion - and that is all that is from a non-neuroscientist - is that the human mind and its attributes are an illusion similar to a rainbow: the fact that you can observe it is a reflection of the real properties of the human body, but it does not in itself exist physically in the way that the body does.

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