Dopamine Modulates the Efficiency of Sensory Evidence Accumulation During Perceptual Decision Making

Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2018 Jul 1;21(7):649-655. doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyy019.


Background: Perceptual decision making is the process through which available sensory information is gathered and processed to guide our choices. However, the neuropsychopharmacological basis of this important cognitive function is largely elusive. Yet, theoretical considerations suggest that the dopaminergic system may play an important role.

Methods: In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study design, we examined the effect of methylphenidate in 2 dosages (0.25 mg/kg and 0.5 mg/kg body weight) in separate groups of healthy young adults. We used a moving dots task in which the coherency of the direction of moving dots stimuli was manipulated in 3 levels (5%, 15%, and 35%). Drift diffusion modelling was applied to behavioral data to capture subprocesses of perceptual decision making.

Results: The findings show that only the drift rate (v), reflecting the efficiency of sensory evidence accumulation, but not the decision criterion threshold (a) or the duration of nondecisional processes (Ter), is affected by methylphenidate vs placebo administration. Compared with placebo, administering 0.25 mg/kg methylphenidate increased v, but only in the 35% coherence condition. Administering 0.5 mg/kg methylphenidate did not induce modulations.

Conclusions: The data suggest that dopamine selectively modulates the efficacy of evidence accumulation during perceptual decision making. This modulation depends on 2 factors: (1) the degree to which the dopaminergic system is modulated using methylphenidate (i.e., methylphenidate dosage) and (2) the signal-to-noise ratio of the visual information. Dopamine affects sensory evidence accumulation only when dopamine concentration is not shifted beyond an optimal level and the incoming information is less noisy.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making / drug effects*
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylphenidate / administration & dosage
  • Methylphenidate / pharmacology*
  • Motion Perception / drug effects*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Methylphenidate