Dopaminergic stimulation increases selfish behavior in the absence of punishment threat.

Pedroni, Andreas; Eisenegger, Christoph; Hartmann, Matthias N; Fischbacher, Urs; Knoch, Daria (2014). Dopaminergic stimulation increases selfish behavior in the absence of punishment threat. Psychopharmacology, 231(1), pp. 135-141. Springer 10.1007/s00213-013-3210-x

[img] Text
art%3A10.1007%2Fs00213-013-3210-x.pdf - Published Version
Restricted to registered users only
Available under License Publisher holds Copyright.

Download (175kB) | Request a copy

RATIONALE People often face decisions that pit self-interested behavior aimed at maximizing personal reward against normative behavior such as acting cooperatively, which benefits others. The threat of social sanctions for defying the fairness norm prevents people from behaving overly selfish. Thus, normative behavior is influenced by both seeking rewards and avoiding punishment. However, the neurochemical processes mediating the impact of these influences remain unknown. Several lines of evidence link the dopaminergic system to reward and punishment processing, respectively, but this evidence stems from studies in non-social contexts. OBJECTIVES The present study investigates dopaminergic drug effects on individuals' reward seeking and punishment avoidance in social interaction. METHODS Two-hundred one healthy male participants were randomly assigned to receive 300 mg of L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-DOPA) or a placebo before playing an economic bargaining game. This game involved two conditions, one in which unfair behavior could be punished and one in which unfair behavior could not be punished. RESULTS In the absence of punishment threats, L-DOPA administration led to more selfish behavior, likely mediated through an increase in reward seeking. In contrast, L-DOPA administration had no significant effect on behavior when faced with punishment threats. CONCLUSIONS The results of this study broaden the role of the dopaminergic system in reward seeking to human social interactions. We could show that even a single dose of a dopaminergic drug may bring selfish behavior to the fore, which in turn may shed new light on potential causal relationships between the dopaminergic system and norm abiding behaviors in certain clinical subpopulations.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Knoch, Daria


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology








Irène Gonce-Gyr

Date Deposited:

22 Dec 2014 13:54

Last Modified:

20 Oct 2015 09:41

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





Actions (login required)

Edit item Edit item
Provide Feedback