Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Dopamine and its effects



I was reading a lot about dopamine (thanks to some friend's bizarre quote about it) and from what I understood is that dopamine is the chemical whose presence and activity becomes high whenever we experience euphoria, excitement or even happiness. However, I couldn't understand one thing: Is it the presence of high levels of dopamine that causes us to feel happy, or is it the feeling of happiness that results into the spike in dopamine presence and activity? I am just trying to figure out what comes first, the excitement/happiness/euphoria or the high levels of dopamine?


PS I am not a psychology student, so an explanation to a layman would be preferable, if possible.

Hello Ashish

The brain consists of billions of cells called neurons. All a neuron does is transmit or block a signal to an adjoining neuron or group thereof. What allows the transmission is a chemical between them, termed a neurotransmitters (nt).

We do not understand much about nts because we've become aware of them only recently, they exist in submicroscopic quantities, most change or dissipate in  milliseconds, and they cannot really be studied in the living brain of a human. We think there are hundreds of them, but are familiar with about 30, the best-known of which is dopamine. (And we can modify the levels of dopamine, often to good therapeutic effect in some victims of mental illness.)

So, as you see, nts are still mysterious, hypothetical, and uncertain. Given those restrictions, the best answer to your question is that under elation, dopamine levels increase, which maintains the feeling, in short, the reaction is likely circular. Knowing this may be of academic interest, but it has no known practical application.

With thanks for your interesting query,


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Alan Auerbach


Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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