The dopaminergic mind hypothesis seeks to explain the differences between modern humans and their hominid relatives by focusing on changes in dopamine. It theorizes that increased levels of dopamine were part of a general physiological adaptation due to an increased consumption of meat around two million years ago in Homo habilis, and later enhanced by changes in diet and other environmental and social factors beginning approximately 80,000 years ago.
Under this theory, the “high-dopamine” personality is characterized by high intelligence, a sense of personal destiny, a religious/cosmic preoccupation, an obsession with achieving goals and conquests, an emotional detachment that in many cases leads to ruthlessness, and a risk-taking mentality.
High levels of dopamine are proposed to underlie increased psychological disorders in industrialized societies. According to this hypothesis, a “dopaminergic society” is an extremely goal-oriented, fast-paced, and even manic society, “given that dopamine is known to increase activity levels, speed up our internal clocks and create a preference for novel over unchanging environments.” In the same way that high-dopamine individuals lack empathy and exhibit a more masculine behavioral style, dopaminergic societies are “typified by more conquest, competition, and aggression than nurturance and communality.” Although behavioral evidence and some indirect anatomical evidence (e.g., enlargement of the dopamine-rich striatum in humans) support a dopaminergic expansion in humans, there is still no direct evidence that dopamine levels are markedly higher in humans relative to other apes. However, recent discoveries about the sea-side settlements of early man may provide evidence of dietary changes consistent with this hypothesis.