Dopamine, time, and impulsivity in humans

Alex Pine, Tamara Shiner, Ben Seymour, Raymond J. Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Disordered dopamine neurotransmission is implicated in mediating impulsiveness across a range of behaviors and disorders including addiction, compulsive gambling, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and dopamine dysregulation syndrome. Whereas existing theories of dopamine function highlight mechanisms based on aberrant reward learning or behavioral disinhibition, they do not offer an adequate account of the pathological hypersensitivity to temporal delay that forms a crucial behavioral phenotype seen in these disorders. Here we provide evidence that a role for dopamine in controlling the relationship between the timing of future rewards and their subjective value can bridge this explanatory gap. Using an intertemporal choice task, we demonstrate that pharmacologically enhancing dopamine activity increases impulsivity by enhancing the diminutive influence of increasing delay on reward value (temporal discounting) and its corresponding neural representation in the striatum. This leads to a state of excessive discounting of temporally distant, relative to sooner, rewards. Thus our findings reveal a novel mechanism by which dopamine influences human decision-making that can account for behavioral aberrations associated with a hyperfunctioning dopamine system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8888-8896
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number26
StatePublished - 30 Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


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