What is Dopamine? - Definition & Function

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  • 0:01 What Is Dopamine?
  • 0:35 Functions of Dopamine
  • 1:11 Sensation-Seeking Behaviors
  • 2:12 Parkinson's Disease
  • 2:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

In this lesson, learn what dopamine is and how to identify its effects on the body. Afterward, take a quiz to determine your understanding of the function of this amazing chemical.

What Is Dopamine?

When studying the biological basis of behavior, it is important to understand the effect and properties of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body. Over the past 60 years, dopamine has been studied extensively and has been written about in over 110,000 research articles, mainly identifying its relationship with Parkinson's disease, drug addiction and mood disorders. At the same time, it has been at the forefront of controversy within the psychological and neuroscience fields.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body.

Functions of Dopamine

Dopamine is produced in three different areas of the brain: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), substantia nigra pars compacta and hypothalamus. These three areas of the brain affect different bodily functions, such as movement, memory, sleep, mood, pleasurable reward, behavior and cognition.

It's also interesting to see how important dopamine is in our everyday lives. If you are feeling nauseous or sick, it could be because your dopamine levels are low. Dopamine is known to help control nausea and vomiting due to interactions with other chemicals being released into our body.

Sensation-Seeking Behaviors

Dopamine has been identified as the body's reward activator, controlling the pleasure center of our brain while encouraging us to engage in thrill-seeking activities. Let's look at an example of someone that has high levels of dopamine in their chemical makeup. People in this category are believed to gravitate towards taking risks, such as skydiving and bungee jumping.

People with low levels of dopamine in their body have been hypothesized to be more prone to addictive behaviors. It has been observed that somebody with lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine are more likely to use and abuse drugs or consume too much food. These unhealthy behaviors release dopamine into the body, thus contributing to a cycle of addiction.

Low levels of dopamine have been linked to increased susceptibility to alcoholism and drug addiction.

The topic of dopamine and addiction poses the question: What comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do low levels of dopamine contribute to addiction, or does chronic drug use lead to low levels of dopamine? This is a question that scientists are exploring as research continues.

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