Raising the brain's levels of dopamine can enhance our ability to learn by trial and error, neuroscientists have found. This naturally occurring chemical, implicated in the brain's reward system, is linked to learning through an appreciation of good outcomes from different choices.
Mathias Pessiglione and colleagues treated volunteers with drugs to either raise or lower their levels of dopamine, one of the brain's chemical messenger molecules. They then presented them with pairs of symbols on a computer screen; each linked to differing probabilities of monetary gain or loss, and assessed how individuals learnt to maximize monetary gain.
Those with raised levels of dopamine became more adept at maximizing their returns by selecting the options with the best chances of reward, the researchers report online in Nature (Vol. 442, No. 7105, 24 August 2006). This suggests that the brain's dopamine system, which is also associated with reward-based processes such as addiction, helps us to learn by allowing us to appreciate when we have made a good choice.
Mathias Pessiglione (University College London, UK)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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