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Eur J Neurosci. 2012 Apr;35(7):1190-200. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07986.x.

Surprise! Neural correlates of Pearce-Hall and Rescorla-Wagner coexist within the brain.

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Department of Psychology, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD, USA.


Learning theory and computational accounts suggest that learning depends on errors in outcome prediction as well as changes in processing of or attention to events. These divergent ideas are captured by models, such as Rescorla-Wagner (RW) and temporal difference (TD) learning on the one hand, which emphasize errors as directly driving changes in associative strength, vs. models such as Pearce-Hall (PH) and more recent variants on the other hand, which propose that errors promote changes in associative strength by modulating attention and processing of events. Numerous studies have shown that phasic firing of midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons carries a signed error signal consistent with RW or TD learning theories, and recently we have shown that this signal can be dissociated from attentional correlates in the basolateral amygdala and anterior cingulate. Here we will review these data along with new evidence: (i) implicating habenula and striatal regions in supporting error signaling in midbrain DA neurons; and (ii) suggesting that the central nucleus of the amygdala and prefrontal regions process the amygdalar attentional signal. However, while the neural instantiations of the RW and PH signals are dissociable and complementary, they may be linked. Any linkage would have implications for understanding why one signal dominates learning in some situations and not others, and also for appreciating the potential impact on learning of neuropathological conditions involving altered DA or amygdalar function, such as schizophrenia, addiction or anxiety disorders.

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