The Science Of Awareness: What Is The Role Of Dopamine In Consciousness?

Last Update on September 1, 2021 : Published on September 1, 2021

“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.” – Erwin Schrödinger

Consciousness is probably one of the most important scientific terms out there. As Schrödinger says, “Consciousness is fundamental”. Without consciousness, what is there? And while we know what it is like to be conscious, to be aware of the world around us, the question that arises next is how does consciousness happen?

The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science published in a study what role dopamine, the pleasure chemical, plays when it comes to consciousness or awareness in the brain.

In this article, I’ll help you discover the science behind awareness and explore what are the effects of dopamine on the brain and how is it related to conscious brain activity.

What Does Dopamine Do To The Brain?

Dopamine has a very important role to play when it comes to our executive functions. Motor functions, motivation, arousal, even rewards. Dopamine imbalance in the brain can cause dysregulation of motor control, one of the major signs of Parkinson’s.

Dopamine is the chemical that is released when we engage in pleasurable activities or when we seek out an activity that brings us pleasure. It could mean anything from food to drugs. Dopamine is our feel-good hormone but it can be highly addictive too.

This feel-good hormone also plays a role in pain processing, controls nausea and vomiting, helps improve memory, stimulates creativity, etc.

Low dopamine levels or dopamine deficiency can be hard on you too. Low dopamine can not only affect your brain but your body too. It can make you feel tired, restless, unmotivated, depressed, and even anxious.

If you continue on low dopamine then you might even experience shaking, trembling, weight changes, or even back pains. Extreme dopamine deficiency can also cause you to experience anhedonia or loss of pleasure in previously pleasurable activities.

You can read how to increase dopamine levels naturally here!

[Also Read: Dopamine Fasting: Treat to Your Brain or Maladaptive Fad]

Dopamine And Consciousness

Our default mode network, the network of interconnected brain areas, is what is involved in self-awareness. This network is usually impaired when you go under anesthesia or suffer a brain injury that causes consciousness disorders.

Some people may seem unconscious when they aren’t. In a study in 2006, it was found that a woman, thought to be in a vegetative state, showed signs of awareness. When she was asked to imagine walking through her home, the brain area involved in spatial awareness came active.  She had awareness even though that awareness was not noticeable in clinical assessments.

Other research has been found to follow the same pattern. The brain chemical involved in this: Dopamine!

So what comes next?

what is dopamine

Our brain cells rely on many chemicals to communicate with other cells. Thus enabling many brain functions. The pleasure chemical, dopamine, as I’ve mentioned before, is not only activated when we experience pleasure but also in many other functions.

In some small studies, it was found that patients with minimal consciousness can improve when drugs with dopamine or drugs that act through dopamine were given to them. This dopamine source is the ventral tegmental area or VTA.  It is through VTA that dopamine is released.

In people with consciousness disorders, the function of the VTA is impaired. Any kind of dysfunction in dopamine can be linked to dysfunction in the default mode network. This network is essential in consciousness and awareness.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that communicates with our brain cells and encourages them to seek pleasure and excitement. This nature of the feel-good chemical is one of the reasons why we feel motivated too. Dopamine plays a key role not only in maintaining our conscious state but also influences our behaviors.

[Also Read: What Is The Role Of Dopamine In Fueling Our Social Media Addiction?]

Is Dopamine Bad For Our Brain?

Dopamine is a messenger chemical that our brain cells use to communicate with each other but did you know that too much or too little dopamine can be bad for you?

Dopamine imbalance can mean that either your brain is producing too little or too much dopamine. Too little dopamine can result in one developing Parkinson’s disease while too much dopamine can result in one developing mania, hallucinations, or schizophrenia. Dopamine is one of the reasons why we seek activities to satisfy ourselves.

Excessive dopamine symptoms may include high libido, anxiety, sleep troubles, increased energy, stress, manic-like symptoms, etc.

But don’t fret! You can balance out your dopamine. Maintaining a good and healthy diet, practicing activities such as meditation, exercising, and getting a good night’s sleep can help.

If low dopamine is causing you to feel depressed and if you require professional treatment, then your physician may prescribe antidepressants or stabilizers with dopamine in them. While dopamine can help you maintain awareness and consciousness, it can have other side effects too. People with Parkinson’s may be prescribed medicines to increase their dopamine levels. Please consult with your doctor before taking any medicines.

Dopamine is central in maintaining our brain health. Too much or too little dopamine can be harmful to our overall health and wellness. Dopamine is more or less responsible for our brain function, motor function, cognitive functions, and many other functions.

I hope this article helped you understand how dopamine plays a role in consciousness,  awareness, and motivation. To give your feedback, you can write to us or DM us on social media. You can also let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

 We’re always happy to hear from you!

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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