The neuromodulator of exploration: A unifying theory of the role of dopamine in personality

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The neuromodulator dopamine is centrally involved in reward, approach behavior, exploration, and various aspects of cognition. Variations in dopaminergic function appear to be associated with variations in personality, but exactly which traits are influenced by dopamine remains an open question. This paper proposes a theory of the role of dopamine in personality that organizes and explains the diversity of findings, utilizing the division of the dopaminergic system into value coding and salience coding neurons (Bromberg-Martin et al., 2010). The value coding system is proposed to be related primarily to Extraversion and the salience coding system to Openness/Intellect. Global levels of dopamine influence the higher order personality factor, Plasticity, which comprises the shared variance of Extraversion and Openness/Intellect. All other traits related to dopamine are linked to Plasticity or its subtraits. The general function of dopamine is to promote exploration, by facilitating engagement with cues of specific reward (value) and cues of the reward value of information (salience). This theory constitutes an extension of the entropy model of uncertainty (EMU; Hirsh et al., 2012), enabling EMU to account for the fact that uncertainty is an innate incentive reward as well as an innate threat. The theory accounts for the association of dopamine with traits ranging from sensation and novelty seeking, to impulsivity and aggression, to achievement striving, creativity, and cognitive abilities, to the overinclusive thinking characteristic of schizotypy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number762
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberNOV
StatePublished - Nov 14 2013


  • Depression
  • Dopamine
  • Extraversion
  • Impulsivity
  • Openness
  • Personality
  • Schizotypy
  • Sensation seeking


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