News Release

Dopamine involved in recognizing emotions

The reward neurotransmitter also contributes to social cognition

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Society for Neuroscience

Dopamine Involved in Recognizing Emotions

image: Examples of the stimuli used in the study. From left to right: Happy, angry and sad emotional states conveyed in point-light-displays of walking bodies. view more 

Credit: Stimuli created by Edey et al (2017) adapted from Nackaerts et al. (2012)

The neurotransmitter dopamine, famous for its role in reward, is also involved in recognizing emotions, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

People with disrupted dopamine levels, like in Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, often struggle with aspects of social cognition. Yet the link between dopamine and specific social behaviors remained elusive, in part due to mixed results from studies that did not account for individual differences in dopamine levels.

In a study by Schuster et al., healthy participants took haloperidol — a dopamine receptor inhibitor — on one day and a placebo pill on another before completing an emotion recognition task. They assessed videos of people expressing an emotion through their posture and gait (i.e., slow movements for sadness, quick, jerky movements for anger). The researchers also indirectly measured each person’s baseline dopamine levels by testing their working memory. The effects of haloperidol varied in each person depending on their baseline dopamine levels. In people with low dopamine, the drug increased their ability to recognize emotions, while in people with high dopamine, the drug impaired their ability. Future work will examine how changes in dopamine levels in disorders like Parkinson’s disease contribute to social cognition impairments.


Paper title: Dopaminergic Modulation of Dynamic Emotion Perception

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About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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