The cognitive neuroscience of motivation and learning

Nathaniel D. Daw, Daphna Shohamy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Recent advances in the cognitive neuroscience of motivation and learning have demonstrated a critical role for midbrain dopamine and its targets in reward prediction. Converging evidence suggests that midbrain dopamine neurons signal a reward prediction error, allowing an organism to predict, and to act to increase, the probability of reward in the future. This view has been highly successful in accounting for a wide range of reinforcement learning phenomena in animals and humans. However, while current theories of midbrain dopamine provide a good account of behavior known as habitual or stimulus-response learning, we review evidence suggesting that other neural and cognitive processes are involved in motivated, goal-directed behavior. We discuss how this distinction resembles the classic distinction in the cognitive neuroscience of memory between nondeclarative and declarative memory systems, and discuss common themes between mnemonic and motivational functions. Finally, we present data demonstrating links between mnemonic processes and reinforcement learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)593-620
Number of pages28
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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