Individual differences in reactions to negative emotional cues are based on how much dopamine can be stored in our brain, according to a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience. This could help to explain why different people deal with stressful or emotional events in different ways.
Andreas Heinz and colleagues measure the storage capacity of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the amygdala, an area of the brain that is involved in emotional processing, and find an association between individual differences in dopamine storage capacity and emotional processing. The team shows that people with a higher storage capacity of dopamine have a greater activation of the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex when viewing unhappy pictures. Moreover, the functional coupling between the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex correlated inversely with their subjects’ score on a standard test of trait anxiety.
This work provides a possible explanation for how individual differences in dopamine storage capacity can explain differences in individual temperament, particularly as they relate to how people cope with stressful or emotional events.