Dopamine regulates decision thresholds in human reinforcement learning in males

Nat Commun. 2023 Sep 4;14(1):5369. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-41130-y.


Dopamine fundamentally contributes to reinforcement learning, but recent accounts also suggest a contribution to specific action selection mechanisms and the regulation of response vigour. Here, we examine dopaminergic mechanisms underlying human reinforcement learning and action selection via a combined pharmacological neuroimaging approach in male human volunteers (n = 31, within-subjects; Placebo, 150 mg of the dopamine precursor L-dopa, 2 mg of the D2 receptor antagonist Haloperidol). We found little credible evidence for previously reported beneficial effects of L-dopa vs. Haloperidol on learning from gains and altered neural prediction error signals, which may be partly due to differences experimental design and/or drug dosages. Reinforcement learning drift diffusion models account for learning-related changes in accuracy and response times, and reveal consistent decision threshold reductions under both drugs, in line with the idea that lower dosages of D2 receptor antagonists increase striatal DA release via an autoreceptor-mediated feedback mechanism. These results are in line with the idea that dopamine regulates decision thresholds during reinforcement learning, and may help to bridge action selection and response vigor accounts of dopamine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dopamine*
  • Haloperidol / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Levodopa / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Men
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures*


  • Dopamine
  • Levodopa
  • Haloperidol