The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search For Happiness

The Biology of Money

What function does the dopaminergic reward system serve?

The dopaminergic reward system is a circuit that runs through the middle of the brain. In the last decade or so it has received considerable attention because of its central role in a wide range of psychological phenomena. The dopaminergic reward circuitry starts in the ventral tegmentum, an area in the midbrain. This is where we find the cell bodies for the neurons that contain the neurotransmitter dopamine. This particular dopamine tract is called the mesolimbic dopaminergic tract, meaning it runs through the limbic system in the middle of the brain.

The dopaminergic neurons eventually connect to the nucleus accumbens, which is a critical node in the reward circuitry. The reward circuitry responds to reward cues and serves to mobilize the organism to pursue reward. Subjectively, we experience this kind of mobilization as desire, excitement, or craving. The reward system is centrally involved in our financial life. Whenever we experience desire for money or for the goods that money can buy, our reward system is activated.


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