Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Neurotransmitters and motivation

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Neurotransmitters and motivation:
What is the effect of neurotransmitters on motivation?


Neurotransmitters are released throughout the brain to help regulate bodily systems and regulate motivation and emotion. These neurotransmitters all serve their own purpose throughout the body in an attempt to maximise the bodies' potential and survival. Due to this, neurotransmitters may fire for the right reasons but they cause negative effects. For instance, if norepinephrine is released into the body in an attempt to regulate normal bodily functions motivation will decline and stay low until the body has returned to its regular state[factual?].

The body may also stop performing at a normal rate and fire neurotransmitters more or less causing different effects depending on what it is. Despite the differences between effects they all have one factor in common, motivation is reduced[factual?]. This reduction may last for a short or long amount of time depending on the firing of the neurotransmitters. For example, in depression if there is a chemical imbalance in the brain motivation is unlikely to return or be very high for a long time as the neurotransmitters must first be corrected often with drug interventions.

Science of neurotransmitters[edit]

Neurotransmitters are used by the brain to help your body regulate its systems and help regulate emotions[factual?]. Some neurotransmitters aim to help individuals with their everyday problems however, sometimes they can cause more harm than good. (Tortora & Derrickson, 2014)


Where and how it is released: This neurotransmitter is produced by the adrenal glands and is released in response to corticotrophin-releasing hormone which sets off other areas of the brain culminating in cortisol release (Roche, 2017).

Effect on motivation: Initially cortisol can be a highly effective motivator as it helps to ensure people do the activities they need to do. However, if cortisol continues to be secreted the motivation is inhibited. There is no longer the drive to do a task, there is simply the gnawing stress of the situation (Roche, 2017).


Where and how it is released: Adrenaline is released by the sympathetic nervous system via the adrenal glands during a fight or flight response (Dienstbier, 1989).

Effect on motivation: When a threat is perceived the sympathetic nervous system activates and secretes adrenaline which then motivates the person to either fight the threat or flee from it. The adrenaline stops non-essential bodily functions from occurring to maximise the ability to fight or escape. As adrenaline wears off motivation drops due to norepinephrine (Dienstbier, 1989).


Where and how is it released: This neurotransmitter is released from the adrenal glands for many reasons including returning to normal after experiencing the fight or flight response. (McCorry, 2007).

Effect on motivation: After the danger from the fight or flight response has gone away the parasympathetic nervous system activates. During this norepinephrine is released which retards motivation. The body relaxes and its only purpose is to return to its normal state of being leaving no room to be motivated to do anything (McCorry, 2007).


Where and how it is released: Serotonin is located in the gastro intestinal tract and releases in response to negative situations. (Hebart & Glascher, 2014).

Effect on motivation: When not enough serotonin is released into the brain it can lead to adverse mental health effects, and lack of motivation to participate in usual life events. (Hebart & Glascher, 2014).


Where and how is it released: Dopamine is released in the brain due to pleasurable actions such as eating chocolate. (Hebart & Glascher, 2014).

Effect on motivation: Dopamine is a wonderful motivator. Unfortunately it can often motivate people toward destructive behaviours. Some illicit drugs such as cocaine can cause dopamine to release in the brain causing individuals to continue their drug abuse to feel the release. (Hebart & Glascher, 2014).


Where and how is it released: Oxytocin is released by the pituitary gland and is released in social situations. (Love, 2014).

Effect on motivation: During social situations oxytocin will be released, this motivates people to interact socially to continue feeling the release of the hormone. (Love, 2014).

The role of neurotransmitters in motivation[edit]

Mental Health

When neurotransmitters are firing improperly they can affect emotions and motivation drastically and cause severe mental health issues for the individual involved. The following are just some of the mental health issues that can develop from neurotransmitter activity.

Depression: Depression can be brought on by different means such as trauma and chemical imbalances. When the neurotransmitter serotonin is firing too little it can lead to the development of depression (Leo & Lacasse, 2008). Many people who suffer from depression experience a lack of motivation, they have no drive to get up in the morning, to bathe or even to eat. This can be due to not perceiving anything as important or thinking everything is too difficult so why bother trying (Smith, 2013). In some ways it is surprising how something as simple as a neurotransmitter can make us go against natural survival instincts (Frey, Savage, & Torgler, 2011).


Misophonia has been linked with glutamate, a neurotransmitter which when secreted in excess can lead to abnormal sensitivity[factual?]. Noises that others may perceive as normal such as breathing or eating can be distressing to listen to for people who suffer from misophonia (Maxwell, 2014). When distress occurs in a person they may start to avoid a situation so as not to experience the negative emotions. This motivates people to isolate themselves to feel better. Given that humans are usually very social animals it is not good for other aspects of mental health to be isolated[explain?] (Love, 2014).


Studies have been performed on animals investigating drug addiction and motivation. It has been shown that the animals were motivated to continue the drug use due to the feelings they experienced while on the drugs[factual?]. Dopamine is secreted during many drug trips which leave individuals seeking that high they experience while on drugs (LeBlanc, Maidment, & Ostlund, 2013).


A study involving rats showed that dopamine secretion related directly to the motivation to play with other rats (Achterberg, et al, 2016).[Provide more detail]

When things go right

When neurotransmitters and being [say what?] fired correctly they do wonderful things for motivation. People whose brain chemistry is statistically normal will have positive motivation, helping the individual to succeed in their goals and help improve their life (Richard, Castro, DiFeliceantonio, Robinson, & Berridge, 2013).


Neurotransmitters are very interesting in their functions. They attempt to help in every possible way only to fall down the stairs on occasion. While this is unfortunate, when things are going well they go great. If all neurotransmitters are firing at the correct dosage at the right time an individual's motivation leads them down the right path for them personally[factual?].

See also[edit]


Achterberg, E.J.M., van Kerkhof, L.W.M., Servadio, M., van Swieten, M.M.H., Houwing, D.J., Aalderink, m., Driel, N.V., Trezza, V., & Vanderschuren, L.J.M.J. (2016). Contrasting roles of dopamine and noradrenaline in the motivational properties of social play behaviour in rats. Neuropsychopharmacology, 41(3), 858-868.

Compound Interest. (2015). The Structures Of Neurotransmitters [Picture]. Retrieved from

Dienstbier, R. A. (1989). Arousal and psychological toughness: Implications for mental and physical health. Psychological Review, 96(1), 84-100.

Frey, B. S., Savage, D. A., & Torgler, B. (2010). Interaction of natural survival instincts and internalized social norms exploring the Titanic and Lusitania disasters. Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences, 107(11), 4862-4865. doi 10.1073/pnas.0911303107

Hebart, M. N., & Glascher, J. (2014). Serotonin and dopamine differentially affect appetitive and aversive general Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer. Psychopharmacology. doi 10.1007/s00213-014-3682-3

LeBlanc, K.H., Maidment, N.T., & Ostlund, S.B. (2014). Impact of repeated intravenous cocaine administration on incentive motivation depends of mode of drug delivery. Addiction Biology, 19(6), 965-971.

Leo, J., & Lacasse, J.R. (2008). The media and the chemical imbalance theory of depression. Society, 45, 35-45. doi:10.1007/s12115-007-9047-3

Love, T. M. (2014). Oxytocin, motivation and the role of dopamine. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviour, 119, 49-60.

Maxwell, C. (2014). Living with Extreme Sound Sensitivity. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2017, from

McCorry, L. K. (2007). Physiology of the Autonomic Nervous System. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Eductaion, 71(4), 1-11. Retrieved from:

Richard,J. M., Castro, D. C., DiFeliceantonio, A. G., Robinson, M. J. F., & Berridge, K. C. (2013). Mapping brain circuits of reward and motivation: In the footsteps of Ann Kelly. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 3, 1919-1931. retrieved from

Roche, J. P. (2017). Don’t let cortisol stress you out!. ChemMatters, 13-15. Retrieved from:

Smith, B. (2013). Depression and motivation. Phenomenology and Cognitive sciences, 12(4), 615-635.

Tortora, G. J., & Derrickson, B. (2014). Nervous Tissue. Principles of Anatomy & Physiology (pp. 399-441). New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.