Breaking the shackles of reward: dopamine’s role in exploration

~7min read

The world is full of options. So how do we know which goal to pursue and how much effort to put in? And how can we keep track of our progress towards these goals? All these questions point to the action of one neurotransmitter in the brain: dopamine. Yes, dopamine has been previously linked to pleasure or “reward”. Dopamine is still widely believed to do all sorts of things such as getting people hooked on drugs or even cell phones. However, by now, it is well-established that altering dopamine in the brain does not change one’s pleasure in receiving rewards. Instead, dopamine comes into play whenever motivated behavior must be adjusted to pursue a goal.

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Junior research group receives an award from the Faculty of Medicine

On the 25th of January, the Faculty of Medicine hosted its annual research colloquium showcasing current projects and emerging initiatives. And the faculty had good reason to celebrate the recent success of three approved applications for research clusters. These clusters are not only vital for an extension of the university’s “excellence” status; they will shape the focus of research on key challenges such as personalized medicine for the next decade. Arguably, there is a lot that we can learn from other disciplines in medicine about individualizing predictions for the treatment of mental disorders and it will be an exciting endeavor for us to embark on.

As part of the annual research colloquium, all intramurally funded research projects present the results of their ongoing efforts to show where they are heading and to facilitate the exchange across departments. After establishing the junior research group in 2017, this year was our first turn to present. And we also had good reason to celebrate as our work “Going with your gut: vagal nerve stimulation modulates effort” resonated well with the reviewers and received a poster award. Congratulations to everyone who made it happen. Watch this space for the upcoming preprints.

Happy faces after the award was announced.

Nils has received a Publons Peer Review Award

Every year during Peer Review Week, Publons celebrates the service of reviewers as #SentinelsofScience, who demonstrate their commitment to quality and integrity of scholarly publications. We are happy to announce that this year, Nils has won a Peer Review Award in the category Neuroscience & Behavior as one of the top 1% reviewers in the field. Congratulations!


For more information, check out his Publons profile.

Too much or too little reward from eating: why do we overeat?

~5min read

Many things in life are simple to describe, yet difficult to understand. One such obvious fact is that if one consumes more calories than one expends, this will eventually lead to weight gain and, ultimately, overweight and obesity. But what causes the excess in consumption that has propelled the surge in obesity in the past decades?

Intuitively, it is tempting to assume that overeating is driven by greater pleasure derived from eating. To examine the cause for overindulgence, we often present food cues and track how the brain evaluates them. Such cues range from pictures of palatable food to simple geometric shapes predicting the delivery of chocolate milkshake in the scanner. In line with the “reward surfeit” idea, many studies have observed an increased response to food cues in the brain’s reward circuit in overweight and obese individuals. This is then interpreted as an increased desire elicited by the prospect of food. Continue reading “Too much or too little reward from eating: why do we overeat?”