Pavlovian valuation systems in learning and decision making

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2012 Dec;22(6):1054-61. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2012.06.004. Epub 2012 Jun 28.


Environmental stimuli guide value-based decision making, but can do so through cognitive representation of outcomes or through general-incentive properties attributed to the cues themselves. We assert that these differences are conferred through the use of alternative associative structures differing in computational intensity. Using this framework, we review scientific evidence to discern the neural substrates of these assumed separable processes. We suggest that the contribution of the mesolimbic dopamine system to Pavlovian valuation is restricted to an affective system that is only updated through experiential feedback of stimulus-outcome pairing, whereas the orbitofrontal cortex contributes to an alternative system capable of inferential reasoning. Finally we discuss the interactions and convergence of these systems and their implications for decision making and its pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*


  • Dopamine