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New dopamine study maps learning and behavior

By Paul Wallis     Oct 27, 2009 in Science
Studies are showing that dopamine is one of the big drivers in human behavior in ways nobody expected. Another interesting development is that many human vices stimulate dopamine wiring in the brain.
Most people know that dopamine is a major factor in schizophrenia, but few would know that it’s also the motivator for attention spans and actions. Dopamine transmitters make up 1 percent of the brain’s circuitry, but this wiring is in all the important places, including the higher brain.
Interestingly, people’s dopamine processes are quite different, customized to the individual. The stimulus behavior is quite different at all phases.
What’s really staggering is that dopamine is also now considered as a factor in the learning process. A recent study has found that dopamine is stimulated by a stress hormone called corticosterone. The dopamine levels in the rats were linked to actual changes in learning behavior.
That’s more than slightly significant. Pinning down a learning behavior pattern isn’t that easy. Finding a several stage process in the brain that changes those behaviors is no minor achievement.
Ironically these real triumphs of research are also getting submerged to some extent by dopamine emerging as the Next Big Thing after the serotonin craze in the Prozac era. Don't be surprised by dopamine-based everything in the next decade or so. Serotonin only dropped off the radar after saturation level exposure.
Meanwhile there are some existing drug cultures that might learn a bit. Some of the world’s best known stimulants, including cocaine, methamphetamines and Ritalin, are dopamine transmission activators. This might ring a bell with a lot of clinical psychologists, because there’s now some indication that dopamine can also stimulate adverse behaviors like risk taking. That’s not yet proven science, but some logical association between over-stimulation and a dopamine response that isn’t in the behavioral script is hardly out of the question. It'd also fit the behaviors noted in crack and meth abuse down to the wire.
Given the fact that so many stimulants are known to affect dopamine responses, the creation of other paths is hardly unlikely in the event of very high levels of dosage.
Maybe this is the way out of the crappy ultra nasty drugs jungle?
Hard to tell, but that's the kind of information and the sort of research that's required to find the answer.
More about Dopamine, Learning behavior, Drugs dopamine