Dopaminergic basis for signalling belief updates, but not surprise, and the link to paranoia

Matthew Nour, Tarik Dahoun, Philipp Schwartenbeck, Rick Adams, Thomas FitzGerald, Christopher Coello, Matthew Wall, Raymond J. Dolan, Oliver D. Howes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)
220 Downloads (Pure)


Distinguishing between meaningful and meaningless sensory information is fundamental to forming accurate representations of the world. Dopamine is thought to play a central role in processing the meaningful information content of observations, which motivates an agent to update their beliefs about the environment. However, direct evidence for dopamine’s role in human belief updating is lacking. We addressed this question in healthy volunteers who performed a model-based functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) task designed to separate the neural processing of meaningful and meaningless sensory information. We modelled participant behaviour using a normative Bayesian observer model, and used the magnitude of the model-derived belief update following an observation to quantify its meaningful information content. We also acquired positron emission tomography (PET) imaging measures of dopamine function in the same subjects. We show that the magnitude of belief updates about task structure (meaningful information), but not pure sensory surprise (meaningless information), are encoded in midbrain and ventral striatum activity. Using PET we show that the neural encoding of meaningful information is negatively related to dopamine-2/3 receptor availability in the midbrain and dexamphetamine-induced dopamine release capacity in the striatum. Trial-by-trial analysis of task performance indicated that subclinical paranoid ideation is negatively related to behavioural sensitivity to observations carrying meaningful information about the task structure. The findings provide the first direct evidence implicating dopamine in model-based belief updating in humans, and have implications for understating the pathophysiology of psychotic disorders where dopamine function is disrupted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E10167-E10176
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Early online date8 Oct 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Oct 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'Dopaminergic basis for signalling belief updates, but not surprise, and the link to paranoia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this