Learning, Reward, and Decision Making

Annu Rev Psychol. 2017 Jan 3:68:73-100. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010416-044216. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


In this review, we summarize findings supporting the existence of multiple behavioral strategies for controlling reward-related behavior, including a dichotomy between the goal-directed or model-based system and the habitual or model-free system in the domain of instrumental conditioning and a similar dichotomy in the realm of Pavlovian conditioning. We evaluate evidence from neuroscience supporting the existence of at least partly distinct neuronal substrates contributing to the key computations necessary for the function of these different control systems. We consider the nature of the interactions between these systems and show how these interactions can lead to either adaptive or maladaptive behavioral outcomes. We then review evidence that an additional system guides inference concerning the hidden states of other agents, such as their beliefs, preferences, and intentions, in a social context. We also describe emerging evidence for an arbitration mechanism between model-based and model-free reinforcement learning, placing such a mechanism within the broader context of the hierarchical control of behavior.

Keywords: Pavlovian; cognitive map; instrumental; model based; model free; outcome valuation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Neurosciences
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward*