Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dopamine and subjective well-being

Dolan and collaborators note influences of dopamine on emotion and decision making that are distinct from its known role in learning.:
The neuromodulator dopamine has a well established role in reporting appetitive prediction errors that are widely considered in terms of learning. However, across a wide variety of contexts, both phasic and tonic aspects of dopamine are likely to exert more immediate effects that have been less well characterized. Of particular interest is dopamine's influence on economic risk taking and on subjective well-being, a quantity known to be substantially affected by prediction errors resulting from the outcomes of risky choices. By boosting dopamine levels using levodopa (L-DOPA) as human subjects made economic decisions and repeatedly reported their momentary happiness, we show here an effect on both choices and happiness. Boosting dopamine levels increased the number of risky options chosen in trials involving potential gains but not trials involving potential losses. This effect could be better captured as increased Pavlovian approach in an approach–avoidance decision model than as a change in risk preferences within an established prospect theory model. Boosting dopamine also increased happiness resulting from some rewards. Our findings thus identify specific novel influences of dopamine on decision making and emotion that are distinct from its established role in learning.

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