Dopamine functions in appetitive and defensive behaviours

Prog Neurobiol. 1992 Sep;39(3):247-79. doi: 10.1016/0301-0082(92)90018-a.


The data reviewed here are compatible with the hypothesis that telencephalic dopamine activity is elicited by motivationally significant stimuli which in turn creates a neural state in which animals are more prepared to respond to significant stimuli in the environment. This analysis may be viewed as extensions of both the sensorimotor hypothesis, which depicts dopamine as potentiating the ability of stimuli to elicit responses (Clody and Carlton, 1980; Marshall et al., 1974; White, 1986) and of the incentive motivational hypothesis, which emphasizes the importance of dopamine in responding to stimuli that serve as signals of biologically significant events (Blackburn et al., 1989a; Crow, 1973; Mogenson and Phillips, 1976). In addition, we have sought to emphasize that not all responses are equally dependent upon the integrity of forebrain dopamine activity. Some responses, such as ingestion of standard foods by hungry animals, copulation, and escape, are relatively impervious to dopamine disruption. Further, once other behaviours, such as avoidance or appetitive operant responses, have been acquired, they can be maintained at an initially high rate despite perturbation of dopamine systems, although performance deteriorates with repeated testing. This analysis has emerged from the joint consideration of how both appetitive and defensive behaviours are influenced by dopamine antagonists, along with an examination of dopamine release during sequences of behaviour. The data reviewed suggest that dopamine is involved in fundamental psychological processes through which environmental stimuli come to exert control over certain aspects of behaviour. In the future, as knowledge in this field advances, there will have to be an integration of the literature on dopamine and motivation with the literature on dopamine and motor systems. We expect that dopamine release will be seen as a mechanism by which important environmental cues, of innate or learned significance, lead to a general enhancement of motor skeletal responses directed towards distal cues. We conclude with a caveat: Caution must be exercised when attempting to infer a general role of any neurotransmitter in motivated behaviour based on the study of a limited number of motivational systems. Although neurotransmitter pathways may figure prominently in the control of certain behaviours, it is incorrect to think of neurotransmitters as having a single role in behaviour. However, when comparative analyses reveal a common thread among different motivational systems, as is becoming apparent for the general role of mesotelencephalic dopamine pathways in behaviour, then the goal of generating coherent and comprehensive theory concerning a neurotransmitter's function in behaviour will begin to be realised.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Humans


  • Dopamine