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Cognitive training increases dopamine in the brain

September 20, 2012

Dopamine is a major neurotransmitter or “brain chemical” which is an essential part of the brain’s reward system and has a big effect on the way the brain functions. A recent study shows that working memory training increases the brain’s capacity to absorb dopamine.

Dopamine helps students hold onto information

Dr Martha Burns, an expert in the neuroscience of learning, explains that dopamine is that little chemical that makes information stick. It is released in the brain when we are rewarded. “For many students and many of us as adults, learning about new things is an adventure and very rewarding, and dopamine levels increase in the brain to help us retain that new information. But for some learners, if dopamine levels are low, the new information literally goes in and out of the brain and is lost,” says Dr Burns.

Increasing dopamine in the classroom

Dr Burns reminds us that successful teaching is very NEAR:

New – teach information in a variety of new ways.

Exciting – generate enthusiasm in your students by making content exciting and meaningful to the student.


Rewarding – Immediate, positive reinforcement is one of the best ways to increase dopamine levels.

Cognitive training to increase dopamine and learning capacity

Neuroscientists have worked to develop programs which stimulate the brain to release the right brain chemicals, including dopamine, to create lasting gains in brain skills. A study by McNab et al. used fMRI brain scanning and found that working memory cognitive training is associated with changes in the density of cortical dopamine D1 receptors.

The Fast ForWord and Cogmed programs have been designed to boost core cognitive skills such as working memory, attention, listening and language by stimulating the brain to release dopamine at the right time to “save” correct responses and re-wire the brain to be more efficient.

Research article

McNab, F., Varrone, A., Farde, L., Jucaite, A., Bystritsky, P., Forssberg, H., Klingberg, T. (2008). Changes in Cortical Dopamine D1 Receptor Binding Associated with Cognitive Training. Science, 323, pp.800-802.

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Interested in learning more about child development or the Fast ForWord cognitive training program? Have a question about learning, neuroscience and/or education? Contact the team of health and education professionals at Sonic Learning.

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