Sep 25 2014 Posted: 11:28 IST

There is a formula for happiness after all. The equation has been described by Professor Ray Dolan, Professor of Neuropsychiatry and Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London. Professor Dolan presented some of his latest research findings on Tuesday, 23 September, at NUI Galway in a lecture jointly hosted by the University’s School of Psychology, the Discipline of Psychiatry, and the Galway Neuroscience Centre.

In a talk entitled ‘Value Encoding in the Human Brain’, Professor Dolan explained how he and his team of researchers believe that happiness is governed primarily by expectation and surprise, work which they have published recently in the prestigious international journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Dolan and his team used a combination of behavioral neuroscience, computational modeling and neuroimaging approaches to study emotional reactivity in the form of momentary happiness in response to reward.

He also presented results from other work that may help to explain why some people have a propensity to gamble and take risks, while others avoid risk. He explained how the chemical transmitter dopamine in the brain is likely to play a key role in determining whether and how someone will gamble. Furthermore, dopamine’s actions in the brain also appear to play a critical role in learning. Professor Dolan demonstrated how a decline in dopamine levels with ageing can result in impaired learning. In turn, drugs that elevate levels of dopamine in the brain can act as cognitive enhancers.

Professor Dolan, who is a native of Monivea in Galway and a graduate of NUI Galway (known then as University College Galway), is a clinician scientist with a primary interest in the neurobiology of emotion and how emotion impacts on cognition, including decision making.  He has published over 500 peer reviewed papers in scientific journals and is consistently ranked among the top five most cited neuroscientists in the world in the field of neuroscience and behaviour.

He has received numerous awards including the Alexander Von Humboldt Research Award (2004), the Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation (2006), the International Max Planck Research Award (2007). In 2011 he was made a Visiting Einstein Fellow to the Humboldt University, Berlin. He was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2000 and Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2010. Recently, he received an NUI Galway Alumni Award.

NUI Galway’s Professor David Finn, Leader of the Galway Neuroscience Centre, said, “We were honored to welcome Professor Dolan back to NUI Galway to talk to us about his very exciting recent research findings. Neuroscience research and teaching is currently very vibrant at NUI Galway and we aim to train the next generation of leaders in brain research.”

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