Dopamine modulates reward system activity during subconscious processing of sexual stimuli (2012)
Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition-LIBC, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands. N.Y.L.Oei@lumc.nl
Dopaminergic medication influences conscious processing of rewarding stimuli, and is associated with impulsive-compulsive behaviors, such as hypersexuality.
Previous studies have shown that subconscious subliminal presentation of sexual stimuli activates brain areas known to be part of the 'reward system'. In this study, it was hypothesized that dopamine modulates activation in key areas of the reward system, such as the nucleus accumbens, during subconscious processing of sexual stimuli.
Young healthy males (n=53) were randomly assigned to two experimental groups or a control group, and were administered a dopamine antagonist (haloperidol), a dopamine agonist (levodopa), or placebo. Brain activation was assessed during a backward-masking task with subliminally presented sexual stimuli.
Results showed that levodopa significantly enhanced the activation in the nucleus accumbens and dorsal anterior cingulate when subliminal sexual stimuli were shown, whereas haloperidol decreased activations in those areas. Dopamine thus enhances activations in regions thought to regulate 'wanting' in response to potentially rewarding sexual stimuli that are not consciously perceived. This running start of the reward system might explain the pull of rewards in individuals with compulsive reward-seeking behaviors such as hypersexuality and patients who receive dopaminergic medication.