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Explain, using one or more examples, the effects of neurotransmission on human behavior

When a nerve impulse reaches the end of the neuron, the neuron fires and neurotransmitters are released into the synaptic gap where they travel to the neuron at the other side of the synaptic gap.

If the neurotransmitter is not absorbed it can be re-uptaken, diffused out or destroyed. The neurotransmitter then binds to specific receptors at the other side. If a neurotransmitter is blocked or replaced (e.g. because another chemical interferes) then the messages change. This affects the physiological system, cognition, mood, or behavior.

Example 1:

Acetylcholine (ACh) on memory

  • ACh is a neurotransmitter which has been linked motor movement and  to synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus and it seems to play an important role in learning and short-term memory via the cholinergic system.
  • The cholinergic system is a system of nerve cells that uses acetylcholine in transmitting nerve signals. Memory processing and higher cognitive functioning are dependent on the cholinergic system.

Study to use: Martinez and Kesner (1991)

Example 2:

Dopamine and Love

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in goal-directed behavior (motivation) such as pleasure seeking, control of movement, emotional response, and addictive behavior. Dopamine is released in the brain’s reward system.

Dopamine and addictive behavior

  • Dopamine is released in the brain’s reward system and has been associated with pleasure seeking and addictive behavior. Addictive drugs or substances increase the amount of dopamine in the reward system.
  • Dopamine can be released by environmental triggers (e.g. the sight of a cigarette package, food, or a gambling machine) because this is associated with pleasure (reward).
  • Nicotine is the psychoactive ingredient in tobacco, which increases the level of dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit causing feelings of pleasure and relaxation.

Study to use: Fisher et al. (2003)