Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Ventral Striatum and Pleasure


Neurobiology of Risk: the Ventral Striatum



Ventral striatum is a relatively small area deep in the brain near the basal ganglia.

The ventral striatum consists of two portions, the nucleus accumbens and the olfactory tubercle. Its most important neurotransmitter is dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and with motor functions. (Dopamine-increasing drugs are used to treat Parkinson’s disease.) The ventral striatum is closely linked with the limbic system, which involves emotion and motivation.  Ventral striatum receives input from the limbic system and sends output to it, mainly inhibitory.  Scientists believe that the ventral striatum helps to suppress certain mechanisms in the limbic system, thereby selecting the appropriate ones and silencing others.

Anticipating financial gain increases dopamine in the ventral striatum, which increases pleasure. Thinking about loss, decreases dopamine. Most people are more sensitive to decreases of dopamine than increases, thus their risk aversion. The ventral striatum tells your limbic system that the behavior you’re considering is risky or that the loss you’ve just suffered is a bad thing, and the limbic system tells your conscious mind that it feels bad about what just happened, which affects your decision-making.

The ventral striatum is a tiny structure with big effects on our behavior. Most of decision-making, including financial decision-making, includes processing risk, which includes weighing rewards and losses. The ventral striatum is instrumental in modulating those behaviors and processes.

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