Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in reward, motivation, and learning, has long been implicated in human behavior. However, the precise mechanisms by which dopamine influences our actions have remained elusive. A new study published in the journal Science Advances provides new insights into this relationship, suggesting that it is not the absolute level of dopamine in our brains that matters most, but rather the rapid fluctuations in dopamine levels.
Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine used a technique called fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to measure dopamine levels in real time in the brains of human participants. This technique allowed them to track dopamine levels with a high degree of precision, enabling them to observe even the slightest fluctuations. The participants were then asked to make decisions about whether to accept or reject monetary offers. The researchers found that the participants’ behavior was more closely correlated with the fluctuations in their dopamine levels than with the absolute levels of dopamine in their brains.
These findings suggest that fast changes in dopamine levels may play a critical role in encoding the value of rewards and punishments, which in turn guides our behavior. This study has important implications for our understanding of human decision-making and may also have potential applications in the development of new treatments for conditions such as addiction and depression.