Making sense: Dopamine activates conscious self-monitoring through medial prefrontal cortex

Hum Brain Mapp. 2015 May;36(5):1866-77. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22742. Epub 2015 Jan 27.


When experiences become meaningful to the self, they are linked to synchronous activity in a paralimbic network of self-awareness and dopaminergic activity. This network includes medial prefrontal and medial parietal/posterior cingulate cortices, where transcranial magnetic stimulation may transiently impair self-awareness. Conversely, we hypothesize that dopaminergic stimulation may improve self-awareness and metacognition (i.e., the ability of the brain to consciously monitor its own cognitive processes). Here, we demonstrate improved noetic (conscious) metacognition by oral administration of 100 mg dopamine in minimal self-awareness. In a separate experiment with extended self-awareness dopamine improved the retrieval accuracy of memories of self-judgment (autonoetic, i.e., explicitly self-conscious) metacognition. Concomitantly, magnetoencephalography (MEG) showed increased amplitudes of oscillations (power) preferentially in the medial prefrontal cortex. Given that electromagnetic activity in this region is instrumental in self-awareness, this explains the specific effect of dopamine on explicit self-awareness and autonoetic metacognition.

Keywords: default mode; dopamine; medial prefrontal; metacognition; self-awareness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness / drug effects*
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Brain Waves / drug effects
  • Brain Waves / physiology
  • Carbidopa / pharmacology*
  • Consciousness / drug effects*
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Combinations
  • Humans
  • Judgment / drug effects
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Levodopa / pharmacology*
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Metacognition / drug effects*
  • Metacognition / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Self Concept
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Drug Combinations
  • carbidopa, levodopa drug combination
  • Levodopa
  • Carbidopa
  • Dopamine