Dopaminergic signals play a mathematically precise role in reward-related learning, and variations in dopaminergic signaling have been implicated in vulnerability to addiction. Here, we provide a detailed overview of the relationship between theoretical, mathematical, and experimental accounts of phasic dopamine signaling, with implications for the role of learning-related dopamine signaling in addiction and related disorders. We describe the theoretical and behavioral characteristics of model-free learning based on errors in the prediction of reward, including step-by-step explanations of the underlying equations. We then use recent insights from an animal model that highlights individual variation in learning during a Pavlovian conditioning paradigm to describe overlapping aspects of incentive salience attribution and model-free learning. We argue that this provides a computationally coherent account of some features of addiction.
Keywords: addiction; dopamine; incentive salience; model-free; prediction error; reinforcement learning; sign-tracking.
© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.