Emotion and motivation: the role of the amygdala, ventral striatum, and prefrontal cortex

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2002 May;26(3):321-52. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(02)00007-6.


Emotions are multifaceted, but a key aspect of emotion involves the assessment of the value of environmental stimuli. This article reviews the many psychological representations, including representations of stimulus value, which are formed in the brain during Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning tasks. These representations may be related directly to the functions of cortical and subcortical neural structures. The basolateral amygdala (BLA) appears to be required for a Pavlovian conditioned stimulus (CS) to gain access to the current value of the specific unconditioned stimulus (US) that it predicts, while the central nucleus of the amygdala acts as a controller of brainstem arousal and response systems, and subserves some forms of stimulus-response Pavlovian conditioning. The nucleus accumbens, which appears not to be required for knowledge of the contingency between instrumental actions and their outcomes, nevertheless influences instrumental behaviour strongly by allowing Pavlovian CSs to affect the level of instrumental responding (Pavlovian-instrumental transfer), and is required for the normal ability of animals to choose rewards that are delayed. The prelimbic cortex is required for the detection of instrumental action-outcome contingencies, while insular cortex may allow rats to retrieve the values of specific foods via their sensory properties. The orbitofrontal cortex, like the BLA, may represent aspects of reinforcer value that govern instrumental choice behaviour. Finally, the anterior cingulate cortex, implicated in human disorders of emotion and attention, may have multiple roles in responding to the emotional significance of stimuli and to errors in performance, preventing responding to inappropriate stimuli.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*