Dopamine Made Me Do It

Dopamine Made Me Do It

The Science of Motivation

Dopamine. You’ve likely heard of this celebrity neurotransmitter in the news, or in the context of drugs or mental health. Dopamine is often touted as the source of pure pleasure: a survey of books on the subject show titles like Habits of a Happy Brain or Meet your Happy Chemicals. While that’s true, there’s more to the story. In reality, dopamine is implicated in many brain processes, like movement, learning, memory, sleep regulation, and even lactation. Once we look at how dopamine got its reputation and how it works, we’ll focus on one of dopamine’s important roles: motivation. 

The chemical with a backstory

If we look back at the 1980s, we can start to understand how dopamine got crowned as the pleasure maker. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, an American research institute, began doing studies to find out how addiction works. By monitoring the brains of people using drugs such as amphetamines, they found the strong presence of you-know-who: dopamine. Thus, the link was made between dopamine and pleasure. You take a drug or engage in a pleasurable activity, and bam, your brain lights up like crazy, signals are sent back and forth, and you’re on a high.

This framework persisted for a few decades, and in fact persists in popular culture, but by the early 2010’s more and more studies had piled up that led to a new way of thinking. Dopamine is still in the picture when you eat a rich piece of cheesecake or receive a good hug, but like so many things, it’s complicated. Let’s take a look at how dopamine actually works.

What is it, and how can I get some 

Your body contains over one hundred billion neurons, cells that receive information about the world and talk to other neurons about what to do with that information, like act or think. One of the ways that these nerve cells talk to each other is through neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that can shoot across the space between neurons. Dopamine, like some of its well-known cousins serotonin and oxytocin, is a neurotransmitter.

As mentioned earlier, one of dopamine’s important roles is motivation. A now-famous study done in 2003 showed that when rats were able to push levers to receive cocaine, their brains were flooded with dopamine before they received the drug. What happened is called a positive prediction error- the rats’ brains told them that pushing the lever would deliver something great, and once they received a surprisingly good reward, they remembered the sequence of events so they know what do for next time. Similarly, when researchers at the University of Tsukuba showed monkeys different pictures, each associated with a different reward, they found that dopamine flooded the monkeys’ brains while deciding which option to choose, and again when they made their choice.

Clearly, dopamine is needed to make decisions and to supply the motivation needed to achieve certain goals. “Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself,”  says John Salamone, professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut. It’s not all positive, because dopamine can be present when people are experiencing stress or pain. Researchers at the University of Miami found that dopamine was released in the brains of soldiers with PTSD when they heard the sound of gunfire. In that case, dopamine’s role is aversive, training and motivating the brain to stay away from situations that are stressful or traumatic.

Practical applications

New understandings of the neurotransmitter have helped researchers understand illnesses like depression and ADHD, cases where a person will have very low levels of dopamine, and therefore lowered motivation to get things done. In the case of addiction to drugs like cocaine, the brain’s reward pathway gets hijacked, making the addicted person highly motivated to keep using the drug at the expense of anything else.

A practical understanding of how dopamine plays into memory and learning can also aid the average student. “Dopamine leads to maintain the level of activity to achieve what is intended. This in principle is positive, however, it will always depend on the stimuli that are sought: whether the goal is to be a good student or to abuse drugs,” says Mercè Correa, a researcher at Universitat Jaume I of Castellón. In other words, it’s helpful to have dopamine firing in your brain, within reason.

So here’s a few things you can do: first, break down your goals into small, manageable amounts. Your brain enjoys the feeling of achievement, so bring able to check things off your to-do list will give you a rush of dopamine. You can also eat food rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that is used to make dopamine. This includes protein-rich foods like eggs, legumes, turkey, and beef. Hopefully, armed with this new knowledge you’ll be motivated to go do some homework.

Happy studying!


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Phillips, P., Stuber, G., Heien, M. etal. Subsecond dopamine release promotes cocaine seeking. Nature 422, 614–618 (2003).

“Dopamine neurons mull over your options.” NewsRx Health & Science, 26 July 2020, p. 195. Gale Academic OneFile, Accessed 22 Sept. 2020

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TAV Science Student Receives Internship to Work On 3D Bone Engineering

TAV Science Student Receives Internship to Work On 3D Bone Engineering

TAV Health Sciences student Yisca Perez was pleasantly surprised on her last day of the Winter 2019 semester when she was told that she was selected for the opportunity to be an intern at one of Montreal’s leading biotech labs, as well as the recipient of a $5,000 working scholarship.


Perez said she received word about the opportunity via email but heavily debated if she would even apply for it because she felt her chances of being selected within the candidate pool was slim. However, her parents were ultimately the ones who pushed her to go after the opportunity. Perez received assistance with her application on how to make it more persuasive by two of TAV’s staff members, Marie-Lou Larouche (Academic Advisor) and Nima Nateghi (Science Program Coordinator). Moreover, the last day of classes for the Winter 2019 semester, Yisca was requested to attend a meeting with Dr. Nateghi and he informed her that she had won the scholarship. The internship was offered by the Fonds de recherche du Quebec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT), in cooperation with the Montreal General Hospital, under the supervision of Professor Derek Rosenzweig (Assistant professor at the Department of Surgery, McGill University). The internship focused on 3D printing bone engineering. The research is designed to discover new methods to be able to 3D print bones for disabled people who have suffered a major injury resulting in the loss of a bone. Perez said that this new technology has the capability to be life-changing.


As opposed to the current methods of bone transplant, which is damaging bones from one part of the body and transplanting it elsewhere, 3D print bone engineering will have the capability to print customized bones to fit the exact specifications of the recipient’s injury zone.



Perez’s task was to research different ratios of 3D print material, ABS, (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) to bone matter (hydroxyapatite), and then determine which ratio produces the best situation for positive cell growth. Unfortunately, Perez was given the wrong 3D print material: she was given ABS, however, she was supposed to be testing the ratios with PLA (Polylactic acid). The reason this 3D print material was wrong is because ABS plastic has a much higher melting point. Nonetheless, Perez stated that they (her supervisor and the laboratory staff) were very happy with the work she did throughout the summer and the project is expected to be resumed next summer by another student. Perez said that she left detailed research notes so that the selected student (to receive the same internship) in the summer of 2020 will be able to easily pick up where she left off.


As a side note, to conclude this article, the TAV College administration is always very proud and enthusiastic about honouring and sharing the stories of our students’ success in academics. We congratulate Yisca on this outstanding opportunity and we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavours; the sky’s the limit.

Meet Geometry’s Newest Shape, the Scutoid

Meet Geometry’s Newest Shape, the Scutoid

You’re probably familiar with the geometric shapes you learned in school: Circles, triangles, squares, and the like. These are the shapes that make up the world around us, and we encounter them every single day. Some of the shapes that make us up though, can be downright bizarre.

Photo: Luisma Escudero – Universidad de Sevilla

Researchers at the University of Seville in Spain have recently discovered the existence of a new shape: The scutoid, (phonetically pronounced scoo-toid).

The new shape was discovered while studying epithelial cells. Epithelial cells are the body’s natural barriers, protecting your insides and your out. Your skin is made of them and they also line your throat, intestines, organs, and blood vessels. Epithelial cells have to be tightly packed in order to form an effective shield. They also have to be shaped in a way that allows them to stick together when various tissues and organs begin to twist and curve. Scutoids’ unique shape allows groups of cells to remain packed tightly while still being able to bend.


On a completely flat surface, prisms have no trouble staying squeezed together. However, the human body has almost no flat surfaces! Until now, scientists thought that epithelial cells were shaped like frustums. (A frustum is a prism with two flat bases, one wider than the other.)


The researchers used a computer program to figure out what happens to epithelial cells in curved tissue and discovered that what actually happened was not what they expected. As the cells stretched, they also developed a flat, triangular surface along one side. Imagine you have a prism-shaped tent. It has a pentagonal roof and floor and zippers down all five sides where two points meet. You unzip one side from the bottom and fold the flaps back so that they form a triangle. The tent floor is now a hexagon. If you find that hard to visualize, don’t worry! The research team also had trouble, until one of them made a clay model with his daughter.


The researchers weren’t sure what to call this new shape. They asked mathematicians, who told them that they weren’t sure either; This was a geometric shape that they had no idea existed! The scientists were able to confirm the existence of scutoids by studying fruit flies and zebrafish. 


Now that we have a better understanding of how epithelial cells arrange themselves, this paves the way for potentially exciting advances in medicine and the growth of artificial organs. “We believe that this is a major breakthrough in many ways,” says Luis Escudero, one of the researchers. “We are convinced that there are more implications that we are trying to understand as we speak.” Welcome to the world scutoids.

TAV College to Expand its Campus by 2020

TAV College to Expand its Campus by 2020

Computer aided rendering of the new building concept, TAV College.

It has been announced by the administration of TAV College that the institution will be having a new structure built at 5995 Decarie Boulevard to expand the college’s campus.

“With a consistently growing number of annual student enrolment, the board of directors of TAV College has decided to purchase land nearby and build more space for the college to grow for years to come.”

Eli Meroz, Director of Studies

The new building will finally have some very exciting features that students have been demanding for years.


The street level floor will be a state-of-the-art library and study hall with brand new computers and lavish interior design, according to Meroz. The library will not necessarily be devoted to traditional stock, i.e. books and literature. Instead, it will take on a more contemporary style and depend on technology as the main highlight for the information space.

The other floors will be devoted to brand new classrooms with the newest technologies and teaching equipment, as well as office space to accommodate more and more teaching and administrative staff.


“Although the building is planned to be completed and ready to use by the Fall of twenty-twenty, you never know which types of problems you will run into along the way,”

said Meroz during an interview. TAV is now in the process of designing the new building, as well as negotiating the designs with city officials. Meroz states that the design for the building has already undergone four redesigns due to city regulations and engineering suggestions.

Also, the current building sitting at 5995 Decarie had to undergo a “heritage site” investigation to determine if the structure was of any significance to Quebec/Canadian history. Luckily for the College, the site was not deemed a heritage site and could be therefore demolished, however, the city is insisting that the new building pay homage to the old and retain some of its features.

The building currently at 5995 Decarie was, at once, a bank and eventually a police station, finally it will now be the new home of TAV College. Despite all the complications with the project, the director is confident that the new building will be ready to use by the expected completion date.


TAV currently has over nine hundred and fifty enrolled students and, according to Meroz, the College is expected to have well over one thousand two hundred by the time the new campus is ready. With that being said, the college is looking into expanding its programs to attract larger numbers of enrolment.

“We currently have two new and very exciting programs at TAV: A social sciences program, as well as a coding program in which students are guaranteed employment upon graduation,”

states Meroz. The social sciences option is a two year DEC program geared towards students who are searching for a program that touches on many different fields of study, which prepares the students for many possible university paths.

The coding program is a six month training intensive that has a partnership with a company entitled Shorify, which guarantees students (who have achieved a seventy five percent or more average) a job upon completion of the course. According to the director, the college will be eagerly looking into more partnerships with corporations for its students such as this program has done.


The future of TAV College is definitely an exciting one, however; it is full of unpredictability. The institution is in a constant state of change and innovation. The new building will not only create job opportunities for some twenty plus teachers and instructors, but will allow hundreds of new students to achieve their academic goals. It is inevitable that one day TAV will be competing against larger, reputable institutions such as Dawson College, or Vanier.

This article was updated on December 3, 2019.

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