Dopamine and adaptive memory

Trends Cogn Sci. 2010 Oct;14(10):464-72. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.08.002. Epub 2010 Sep 9.


Memory is essential to adaptive behavior because it allows past experience to guide choices. Emerging findings indicate that the neurotransmitter dopamine, which signals motivationally important events, also modulates the hippocampus, a crucial brain system for long-term memory. Here we review recent evidence that highlights multiple mechanisms whereby dopamine biases memory towards events that are of motivational significance. These effects take place over a variety of timescales, permitting both expectations and outcomes to influence memory. Thus, dopamine ensures that memories are relevant and accessible for future adaptive behavior, a concept we refer to as 'adaptive memory'. Understanding adaptive memory at biological and psychological levels helps to resolve a fundamental challenge in memory research: explaining what is remembered, and why.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Memory*
  • Motivation*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Dopamine