New research shows that the brain chemical dopamine, which is linked to happiness, is directly related to social bonding, Hindustan Times reports.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects a variety of functions within the body. There are multiple dopamine pathways both within and outside of the central nervous system.
Mainly, it’s known for sparking reward-motivated behavior, but it also reduces insulin production in the pancreas, helps the digestive system by reducing gastrointestinal motility, and aids kidney function.
The research focused on the effects dopamine has on happiness and relationships. Researchers studied 19 mother-infant pairs via brain scans.
Two brain scans occurred simultaneously. One scan used is known as functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, which is able to scan the brain in sections from front to back and track blood flow. The other scan is known as position emission tomography, or PET.
Research member Lisa Feldman Barrett of Northeastern University said, “Our study shows that a biological process in one person’s brain, the mother’s, is linked to behavior that gives the child the social input that will help wire his or her brain normally. That means parents’ ability to keep their infants cared for leafs to optimal brain development, which over the years results in better adult health and greater productivity.
This research, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, links a mother’s dopamine level to her connection with her child. They also connected a mother’s dopamine level to the amygdala network, which impacts social affiliation.
“We found that social affiliation is a potent stimulator of dopamine. This link implies that strong social relationships have the potential to improve your outcome if you have a disease, such as depression, where dopamine is compromised,” Barrett added.