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Front Syst Neurosci. 2011 Aug 30;5:66. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2011.00066. eCollection 2011.

A critical review of habit learning and the Basal Ganglia.

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Department of Psychology, Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO, USA.


The current paper briefly outlines the historical development of the concept of habit learning and discusses its relationship to the basal ganglia. Habit learning has been studied in many different fields of neuroscience using different species, tasks, and methodologies, and as a result it has taken on a wide range of definitions from these various perspectives. We identify five common but not universal, definitional features of habit learning: that it is inflexible, slow or incremental, unconscious, automatic, and insensitive to reinforcer devaluation. We critically evaluate for each of these how it has been defined, its utility for research in both humans and non-human animals, and the evidence that it serves as an accurate description of basal ganglia function. In conclusion, we propose a multi-faceted approach to habit learning and its relationship to the basal ganglia, emphasizing the need for formal definitions that will provide directions for future research.


automaticity; basal ganglia; habit learning; reward

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