Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 14 November 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00762

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

  • Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

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.

Keywords: dopamine, personality, extraversion, openness, impulsivity, sensation seeking, depression, schizotypy

Citation: DeYoung CG (2013) The neuromodulator of exploration: A unifying theory of the role of dopamine in personality. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:762. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00762

Received: 19 July 2013; Accepted: 23 October 2013;
Published online: 14 November 2013.

Edited by:

Luke D. Smillie, The University of Melbourne, Australia

Reviewed by:

Richard Depue, Cornell University, USA
Linh C. Dang, Vanderbilt University, USA

Copyright © 2013 DeYoung. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Colin G. DeYoung, Department of Psychology, 75 East River Rd., Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA e-mail: cdeyoung@umn.edu

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