Dopaminergic mechanisms of individual differences in the discounting and subjective value of rewards

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Everyday, animals make decisions that require balancing tradeoffs like time delays, uncertainty, and physical effort demands with the prospect of rewards like food or money. The tendency to devalue rewards according to these tradeoffs is also known as discounting and depends on how much subjective value an animal places on a reward. These discounting decisions are supported by different neural systems. The influence of dopamine signaling is well-characterized as a modulator of motivation and decision making. However, the role of dopamine as a marker of interindividual differences of reward sensitivity and valuation is less clearly understood. Using a combination of neuroimaging techniques (functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography), behavioral experiments, and meta-analyses, this dissertation identifies how trait-like variation in dopamine function explains the way people differ in their preferences and neural computations of value. Overall, the findings indicate that while dopamine may exert acute influence over reward discounting behavior, these associations may not extend to trait-like differences. Specifically, individual differences in dopamine receptor availability are related to discounting behavior in clinical populations but not healthy adults. Nevertheless, individual differences in dopamine are related to functional brain activation associated with the subjective valuation of rewards—the input to choice behavior. These results highlight that interindividual variation in dopamine is more directly linked to neural computations than observed behaviors and that dopamine-mediated psychopathology does not precisely map on to acute pharmacodynamics.





Castrellon, Jaime (2022). Dopaminergic mechanisms of individual differences in the discounting and subjective value of rewards. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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