Choosing the usual or taking a chance?

Choosing the usual or taking a chance?

In cases that require decision-making, it is the signaling by dopamine in our brain that makes us maintain our usual choices to feel comfort and security. However, when we are faced with a changing environment, it is the signaling by norepinephrine, better known as noradrenaline, that makes us take risks and change.

We always choose the same route back home, but one day, alerted about traffic restrictions, we decide to risk an alternative route. What drives us to make this decision? Aaron C. Koralek studied the role of neuromodulators such as dopamine and norepinephrine in behavioural exploration and concluded that these chemicals affect our daily decisions.

In our brain, neurons have the mission of carrying information to the body, through nerve impulses. To achieve this, they use neurotransmitters and neuromodulators that act on the nervous system and can affect various physical and psychological functions, including sleep, appetite, mood and fear.

In order to study the relationship between environmental variability, action selection and the responses of the neuromodulators dopamine and norepinephrine, the researcher developed, with the support of the BIAL Foundation, a behavioural paradigm in mice to investigate how changes in environmental stability affect behavioural variability.

Aaron C. Koralek confirmed that dopamine - the neuromodulator which causes the sensation of pleasure and increases motivation - and norepinephrine - the neuromodulator that mobilizes the body and brain to act in moments of danger or stress - affect decision-making in everyday life.

Depending on the environment (stable or changeable) we find ourselves in, “these two chemicals will shape our decision to choose something new or something we always choose,” explains the researcher at the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme.

When environmental rewards are stable, “we prefer to take actions recognised as rewarding”- it's dopamine at work. However, when the environment is changing, we can adapt to “explore alternatives and revisit actions whose value may have changed” - adrenaline took action.

Learn more about the study “The role of dopamine in behavioural exploration and action selection” here.

Choosing the usual or taking a chance?

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