Dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in emotional perception
The neurotransmitter dopamine, known for its role in reward, is involved in emotional recognition, according to new research published in the journal Neuroscience. JNeurosci.
However, the link between dopamine and specific social behaviors remains elusive, in part because mixed results from studies do not account for individual differences in dopamine levels.
‘People with disturbed dopamine levels, as in Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia, often struggle with aspects of social cognition.’
In a study by Schuster et al., healthy participants took haloperidol – a dopamine receptor blocker – on one day and a placebo on the other day before completing an emotion-recognition task. They rated videos of people expressing emotions through their posture and gait (i.e. slow motion for sadness, fast movement, startled by anger).
The researchers also indirectly measured each person’s basal dopamine levels by testing their working memory. The effects of haloperidol vary from person to person depending on their baseline dopamine levels. In people with low dopamine, the drug increases their ability to perceive emotions, while in people with high dopamine, the drug impairs their ability. Future work will look at how changes in dopamine levels in disorders such as Parkinson’s disease contribute to social cognitive decline.