In this video blog, Dr. David Wiss, RDN, takes you on a comprehensive journey into the intricacies of the dopamine system, shedding light on vital concepts like wanting vs. liking and reward expectancy. As an expert in the field, David delves deep into the neuroscience of human behavior, emphasizing the pivotal role of understanding the dopamine system. 

Beyond the scientific aspects, he brings a personal touch, sharing insights that bridge the gap between theory and real-life experiences. Whether you’re new to the subject or seeking a deeper understanding, this video promises to unravel the mysteries of the dopamine system and its profound impact on our behaviors and choices. Prepare to gain valuable insights and a holistic perspective on the neuroscience behind human behavior, making complex concepts accessible and relatable. 

In the intricate landscape of neuroscience, few neurotransmitters capture our fascination quite like dopamine. Often coined as the “reward neurotransmitter,” dopamine plays a pivotal role in shaping our behaviors, motivations, and pleasure experiences. In this blog post, we embark on a journey to understand “The Basics of Dopamine,” exploring key concepts such as wanting vs. liking and reward expectancy that add layers to our comprehension of this complex neurotransmitter.


What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the brain and other areas of the nervous system. It belongs to the catecholamine family and is renowned for its involvement in the brain’s reward system, influencing our responses to pleasure, motivation, and reinforcement.


Wanting vs. Liking:


  1. Motivational Drive: Dopamine is intricately tied to “wanting.” It propels us to seek rewards and motivates goal-directed behaviors.
  2. Incentive Salience: The anticipation of a reward triggers the release of dopamine, heightening the perceived value of the reward.


  1. Reward Enjoyment: While dopamine is associated with wanting, the actual experience of pleasure or liking a reward involves other neurotransmitters, such as endorphins and opioids.


Reward Expectancy:

The Anticipation Factor:

  1. Cognitive Aspect: Dopamine is released not only in response to rewards but also in anticipation of them. This plays a crucial role in learning, decision-making, and goal-directed behaviors.
  2. Prediction Error: Dopamine levels spike when an unexpected or expected reward is withheld, influencing our ability to adapt and learn from experiences.


Dopamine Imbalance and Disorders:

Excessive Dopamine Activity: Linked to conditions like schizophrenia and mania, excessive dopamine activity can lead to heightened sensitivity to stimuli and impulsive behaviors.

Insufficient Dopamine Activity: Associated with conditions like Parkinson’s disease and depression, low dopamine levels may manifest as motor difficulties, mood changes, and a lack of motivation.


Lifestyle Factors Influencing Dopamine Levels:

Nutrition: Consuming a diet rich in tyrosine, a precursor to dopamine, supports its production.

Exercise: Regular physical activity boosts dopamine levels, improving mood and motivation.

Sleep: Adequate and quality sleep is crucial for maintaining optimal dopamine function.


Delving into concepts like wanting vs. liking and reward expectancy enriches our understanding of how dopamine influences our motivations, desires, and responses to rewards. As we navigate the fascinating realm of neuroscience, acknowledging the nuances of dopamine lays the groundwork for a more profound appreciation of the intricate workings of our brain and behavior.


Next Steps


  1. Learn about how dopamine interacts with eating behavior.  
  2. Get started on the free Wise Mind Nutrition app.
  3. Work with Dr. Wiss virtually

Dr. David Wiss became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2013 and founded Nutrition in Recovery, a group practice of RDNs specializing in treating eating and substance use disorders. In 2017, David received the “Excellence in Practice” award at the National Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. The California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics awarded him the “Emerging Dietetic Leader Award” in 2020. He earned his Ph.D. from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health in the Community Health Sciences department (with a minor in Health Psychology) by investigating the links between adverse childhood experiences and various mental health outcomes among socially disadvantaged men. His treatment philosophy is based on a biopsychosocial model which incorporates an understanding of biological mechanisms, psychological underpinnings, and contextual factors that integrate the social determinants of health. Wise Mind Nutrition is an app-based interactive treatment program available for download now -

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