High levels of the happy hormone dopamine could be behind our brain power, and this could explain why humans are smarter than other primates. Humans produce more of this happy hormone than monkeys and chimps.
Why Humans Are Smarter Than Other Primates
In a new study published in the journal Science on Nov. 14, André M.M. Sousa, from Yale University, and colleagues looked at the brain tissue samples of humans, chimpanzees, and macaque monkeys and found that humans are abundant in cortical circuits in the neocortex and striatum that helps facilitate the production of dopamine.
The researchers also found that the TH gene, which leads to the production of dopamine, was highly expressed in the human neocortex and striatum but absent in other primates.
Sousa said that the size of the human brain might account for us having more brain power than other primates but size alone does not distinguish our mind from those of chimpanzees and monkeys.
“Our integrated analysis of the generated data revealed diverse molecular and cellular features of the phylogenetic reorganization of the human brain across multiple levels, with relevance for brain function and disease,” the researchers wrote in their study.
The Happy Hormone
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is crucial to higher-order function. The brain signaling chemical plays a role in our movement. It is also associated with many cognitive abilities that humans excel in such as concentrating, learning, pleasure-seeking and planning. It has long been associated with the reward system and is also blamed for impulsive behaviors and addiction. Earlier studies have shown how dopamine influence human characteristics and behavior.
In a 2016 study, researchers found that facial recognition, a social and survival mechanisms that helps humans identify and initiate interaction with other individuals, as well as determine if somebody poses a threat or not, is linked to the natural reward system that is reinforced by dopamine.
Dopamine also appears to have something to do with the bad and potentially deadly habit of texting while driving. The brain releases dopamine when a driver receives a text message on the phone, and more dopamine is released when the news is positive. Researchers said that the appeal of texting while driving is similar to gambling.
Another study likewise found that the feel-good chemical may help explain why people still binge on fattening food and drinks despite the need to lose weight. Researchers found that increased levels of dopamine make people more likely to choose instant gratification than wait for more beneficial reward later on.