Dopamine is the name of a neurotransmitter that is responsible for very specific functions in the brain. According to research, dopamine plays a major role in learning processes, because it helps transmitting reward signals to the brain. This means that learning through rewards is made possible by serotonin dopamine levels in the brain; even regular activities, such as eating, drinking, laughter and arousal can trigger reward signals and increase dopamine effect.
Impact on learning
It is believed that dopamine plays an essential role in learning, due to its very specific nature. Studies carried on animals showed that when a source of sugar (a natural reward) is identified, animals will consume it in large quantities and return to the place where it was found over and over again. Such behaviors are explained by high dopamine levels in the brain that help animals remember the place and the route towards the source of the substance that caused pleasure.
In humans, the dopamine effect is even more complex. Although natural rewards act in the same way, attention and learning can be stimulated through positive social interactions, which is why stimulating children’s pride through praises and rewards can help them become faster learners. An interesting fact about increase serotonin dopamine in humans is that the brain actually responds to positive experiences and negative experiences with the same intensity. This explains why certain individuals seek fear inducing thrills, such as riding on a roller coaster, or practicing extreme sports.
Dopamine levels and addictive behaviors
Dopamine effect on the brain can be interpreted as a very pleasant experience, which is why this neurotransmitter can play an important role in the development of addictive behaviors. Experiencing the same source or cause of pleasure can lead to addiction; this is why some people take on gambling or drinking. Also, drugs that are highly addictive can be linked with dopamine levels and a need to increase serotonin dopamine. For instance, cocaine and nicotine mimic the pleasant dopamine effect, and people that start taking them find it so hard to drop their habits.
Dopamine and disease
The two conditions that are clearly linked to dopamine levels in the brain are Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. Parkinson’s disease causes the destruction of neurons that are responsible with producing dopamine in the brain, which explains the impact of the condition on motor functions and learning processes. Usually, patients with this condition are treated with dopamine based medications, but abusing this treatment can lead to addictive behaviors (there are studies pointing out that some patients with Parkinson’s disease took on gambling after being given such medication).
On the other hand, schizophrenia is linked with high dopamine levels, and its most severe manifestations include hallucinations, and disturbed thinking. An interesting finding shows that Parkinson’s disease patients that are given too much dopamine end up developing schizophrenia symptoms, while schizophrenia patients that are under treatment for lowering dopamine levels can experience Parkinson’s disease symptoms. This means that dopamine balance and the use of depression natural remedies in the brain is a very delicate issue, and administration of medication with impact on the neurons producing it should be closely supervised.