Research ArticlesVolume 11, Spring 2017

What Drives Us? Chasing Reward in a Dopaminergic Society


An individual’s level of motivation is often heavily attributed as a personality trait-it’s a quality we group with self- control to embody the ideal achiever capable of success in our society. However, seemingly discrete identification of personality traits understates a major component of the motivational driving force: the dopamine mesolimbic reward system, commonly known as the reward circuit. Activation of this circuit triggers the projection of the neurotransmitter dopamine to the nucleus accumbens and feelings of pleasure (Niehaus et al., 2009). Dopamine also critically mediates feelings of motivational desire, an important determinant of incentive drive, in goal- directed behaviors (Robinson et al., 2000; Palmiter et al., 2008). This mechanism is also common to many of our everyday activities. For instance, exercising and listening to music have been associated with increased levels of dopamine (Petzinger et al., 2015). An evolutionary predisposition to chase reward further suggest dopamine’s strength in cultural behavioral manifestations. From the reinforcing effects of cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, food, and music through mediation of the mesolimbic circuit, we’re able to connect a variety of seemingly separate intrinsic and extrinsic factors to provide explanatory and predictive power for dopamine’s increasing influence on the cultural development of the dopaminergic society we live in today.