Just how motivated are you? According to a recent study, it may depend on the level of your brain’s dopamine responsiveness. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain believed to be responsible for a person’s drive. In fact, past studies have shown that decreasing dopamine responsiveness in the brain lowers a person’s willingness to exert more effort.


Wanting to find out just how different dopamine levels in the brain affect motivation, neuroscientists from Vanderbilt University recruited 25 young adults and invited them to play a button-pressing game on either an "easy" or "difficult" level. "Easy" meant pressing the button for as many times as they could using their dominant finger, while "difficult" meant pressing the button with their non-dominant pinky finger. Both tasks had monetary rewards with participants earning as little as $1 to as much as $4.30.

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Before playing the game, researchers imaged the participants’ brains while under either an amphetamine or placebo, which enabled them to measure dopamine responsiveness. The participants were also informed of their probability of winning: low (12 percent), medium (50 percent), or high (88 percent).

According to the results, participants who were used to working hard even when told that the probability of success was low had higher levels of dopamine responsiveness in the striatum, the area of the brain that recognizes rewards. Meanwhile, those who were more likely to slack off had higher levels of dopamine responsiveness in the insula or the part of the brain more focused on the cost of doing an action.


Before you think that your motivation is a subject of genetics and that you simply can’t help whether you’re hardworking or not, read on. According to the study, there is no proof yet that dopamine responsiveness is genetic. Besides, there are people who may not be driven to do certain tasks but are certainly motivated enough to work on others.

(Photo by Jakob Montrasio via Flickr Creative Commons)

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