I am wondering if a person would experience an increase in the level of dopamine while doing something she/he enjoys such as playing guitar or reading a book. And what are some other neurotransmitter that would be released?


Like many topics in neuroscience, this is a controversial subject. While dopamine is very popular among the public as a mechanism for pleasure, recent research challenges that view and has started to tease apart pleasure from motivation, finding a distinction in dopamine.

John Salamone's opinion:

Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself.

and his peer reviewed research:

Salamone, John D. and Correa, Merc. (2012). The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron, 76:3, pp.470 - 485.

It's more likely that the experience of pleasure is a distributed circuit phenomena, not down to any one neurotransmitter:

Smith, Kyle S.; Mahler, Stephen V.; Peciña, Susana; Berridge, Kent C. Kringelbach, Morten L. (Ed); Berridge, Kent C. (Ed), (2010). Pleasures of the brain. , (pp. 27-49). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press, viii, 343 pp.

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    $\begingroup$ I took intro psych with Salamone, he's a phenomenal lecturer. He showed us a video of rats in a Skinner box pressing levers to the tune of "Firestarter" by Prodigy. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Jan 14 '14 at 0:38

Yes it takes a basic level of dopamine to have thoughts and maintain a non-comatic rest structure.

There are four basic kinds of neurotransmitters:

  • Monoamines (dopamine, norepinephrin, epinephrine, histamine and serotonin),
  • Amino acids (glutamate, aspartate, D-serine, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glycine)
  • Peptides (somatostatin, substance P, opioid peptides)
  • Others ( acetylcholine, adenosine, anandamide, nitric oxide)

The most widespread neurotransmitter is glutamate and so as one lives a daily life they experience excitation and stimulation to do what they desire by glutamate receptors. To control the excitation by glutamate the brain releases GABA which is enhanced in many sedatives. Likewise the brain excites and rewards you with dopamine throughout the day. Likewise when you are happy the inhibitor serotonin is lowered making you satisfied and something like good meal or sex happy. One can't forget the Opioid peptides which also make you feel pleasure.

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    $\begingroup$ There are several classes of dopamine receptors, some of which are inhibitory. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Jan 14 '14 at 0:33

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