Amygdala is as important as the ventral striatum for reinforcement learning



Current models of reinforcement learning—which hold that this process is dependent on the ventral striatum’s ability to process dopaminergic signals in order to associate particular choices with outcomes—fail to take into account that, in Pavlovian conditioned learning, dopamine also goes to the amygdala and that this region of the brain also affects choice behaviors and learning.


IRP researchers led by Bruno B. Averbeck, Ph.D., used computational modeling and behavioral experiments to confirm the existence of an essential role for the amygdala in reinforcement learning, which is distinct from that of the ventrial striatum. In addition to this, they also defined a novel role for the ventral striatum in affecting trade-offs between accuracy and speed when making decisions.


By demonstrating that the amygdala is as important as the ventral striatum in reinforcement learning, and that the two areas work together through dopamine signaling, this study has advanced our understanding of how primates learn, and could inform our understanding of how some neurological disorders impact learning and decision-making.


Costa VD, Dal Monte O, Lucas DR, Murray EA, Averbeck BB. (2016). Amygdala and Ventral Striatum Make Distinct Contributions to Reinforcement Learning. Neuron. 92(2):505-517.