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Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2004 Apr;14(2):139-47.

Neural coding of basic reward terms of animal learning theory, game theory, microeconomics and behavioural ecology.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DY, UK.


Neurons in a small number of brain structures detect rewards and reward-predicting stimuli and are active during the expectation of predictable food and liquid rewards. These neurons code the reward information according to basic terms of various behavioural theories that seek to explain reward-directed learning, approach behaviour and decision-making. The involved brain structures include groups of dopamine neurons, the striatum including the nucleus accumbens, the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala. The reward information is fed to brain structures involved in decision-making and organisation of behaviour, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and possibly the parietal cortex. The neural coding of basic reward terms derived from formal theories puts the neurophysiological investigation of reward mechanisms on firm conceptual grounds and provides neural correlates for the function of rewards in learning, approach behaviour and decision-making.

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