Could Dopamine Be a Clue to Consciousness?

Philosophers have long debated questions of consciousness: what does it mean, and how does it arise? Recent research shows that dopamine may play a key role.

What to know:

  • In the 1990s, the philosopher David Chalmers posed what he called the hard problem of consciousness: how do we go from the neural networks of the brain to consciousness ― an understanding of ourselves and the world around us?

  • Neuroscientists have reframed this question into whether consciousness can be measured by studying activity in the brain. Recent research suggests that dopamine could play a crucial role in understanding the link between the brain and consciousness.

  • A team led by Emmanual Stamatakis at the University of Cambridge found a connection between activity in the brain and the ventral pigmental area (VTA), the origin of dopaminergic cells.

  • In people with disorders of consciousness, unconsciousness appeared to be associated with a disconnect between the VTA and the rest of the brain.

  • Other researchers, such as Leandro Sanz at the University of Liège in Belgium, are testing whether dopamine agonists could aid in the recovery of patients with severe brain injuries.

This is a summary of the podcast, “Clues to Consciousness: How Dopamine Fits Into the Mystery of What Makes Us Conscious – Podcast,” published by The Conversation on October 7, 2021. The full podcast can be found on

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