Neurotoxicity Research

, Volume 14, Issue 2–3, pp 169–183 | Cite as

Dopamine and reward: The anhedonia hypothesis 30 years on



The anhedonia hypothesis — that brain dopamine plays a critical role in the subjective pleasure associated with positive rewards — was intended to draw the attention of psychiatrists to the growing evidence that dopamine plays a critical role in the objective reinforcement and incentive motivation associated with food and water, brain stimulation reward, and psychomotor stimulant and opiate reward. The hypothesis called to attention the apparent paradox that neuroleptics, drugs used to treat a condition involving anhedonia (schizophrenia), attenuated in laboratory animals the positive reinforcement that we normally associate with pleasure. The hypothesis held only brief interest for psychiatrists, who pointed out that the animal studies reflected acute actions of neuroleptics whereas the treatment of schizophrenia appears to result from neuroadaptations to chronic neuroleptic administration, and that it is the positive symptoms of schizophrenia that neuroleptics alleviate, rather than the negative symptoms that include anhedonia. Perhaps for these reasons, the hypothesis has had minimal impact in the psychiatric literature. Despite its limited heuristic value for the understanding of schizophrenia, however, the anhedonia hypothesis has had major impact on biological theories of reinforcement, motivation, and addiction. Brain dopamine plays a very important role in reinforcement of response habits, conditioned preferences, and synaptic plasticity in cellular models of learning and memory. The notion that dopamine plays a dominant role in reinforcement is fundamental to the psychomotor stimulant theory of addiction, to most neuroadaptation theories of addiction, and to current theories of conditioned reinforcement and reward prediction. Properly understood, it is also fundamental to recent theories of incentive motivation.


Dopamine Reward Reinforcement Motivation Anhedondia 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health and Human ServicesBehavioral Neuroscience Branch, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of HealthUSA

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