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How Reward and Aversion Shape Motivation and Decision Making: A Computational Account

Journal article
Authors J. P. H. Verharen
Roger A. H. Adan
Ljmj Vanderschuren
Published in Neuroscientist
Volume 26
Issue 1
Pages 87-99
ISSN 1073-8584
Publication year 2020
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Pages 87-99
Language en
Keywords dopamine, reward, aversion, punishment, decision making, value, motivation, ventral tegmental area, dopamine neurons, orbitofrontal cortex, prediction errors, drug-use, brain, inhibition, signals, depression, framework, Neurosciences & Neurology
Subject categories Pharmaceutical Sciences


Processing rewarding and aversive signals lies at the core of many adaptive behaviors, including value-based decision making. The brain circuits processing these signals are widespread and include the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and striatum, and their dopaminergic innervation. In this review, we integrate historic findings on the behavioral and neural mechanisms of value-based decision making with recent, groundbreaking work in this area. On the basis of this integrated view, we discuss a neuroeconomic framework of value-based decision making, use this to explain the motivation to pursue rewards and how motivation relates to the costs and benefits associated with different courses of action. As such, we consider substance addiction and overeating as states of altered value-based decision making, in which the expectation of reward chronically outweighs the costs associated with substance use and food consumption, respectively. Together, this review aims to provide a concise and accessible overview of important literature on the neural mechanisms of behavioral adaptation to reward and aversion and how these mediate motivated behaviors.

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