Dopamine is often known as the “feel-good hormone,” but it’s much more than that.
This neurotransmitter earned its nickname because when we anticipate a reward — like winning a game or falling in love — dopamine levels increase, giving us a feeling of euphoria and bliss.
But research has also found that dopamine is essential for the formation of episodic memories, such as what you had for dinner last night or where you parked your car at the mall.
Kent Berridge, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan, said the results support the authors’ view that activating dopamine neurons ‘stamps in’ learning at that moment.
“It’s a kind of learning or teaching signal that creates a memory,” said Berridge.
He pointed to earlier research Trusted Source that focused on norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that’s active in the amygdala, a part of the brain involved in processing memories.
“That research showed that you could enhance the memory of a moment, primarily by activating norepinephrine to the amygdala,” said Berridge, “like creating a flashbulb memory where the world is brighter, where you remember that moment very vividly.”
He said that although dopamine and norepinephrine are involved in different pathways in the brain, their effect is similar — by making a moment more exciting or more vivid, it enhances memory formation.
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