Reward Anticipation Dynamics during Cognitive Control and Episodic Encoding: Implications for Dopamine

Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Nov 1;10:555. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00555. eCollection 2016.


Dopamine (DA) modulatory activity critically supports motivated behavior. This modulation operates at multiple timescales, but the functional roles of these distinct dynamics on cognition are still being characterized. Reward processing has been robustly linked to DA activity; thus, examining behavioral effects of reward anticipation at different timing intervals, corresponding to different putative dopaminergic dynamics, may help in characterizing the functional role of these dynamics. Towards this end, we present two research studies investigating reward motivation effects on cognitive control and episodic memory, converging in their manipulation of rapid vs. multi-second reward anticipation (consistent with timing profiles of phasic vs. ramping DA, respectively) on performance. Under prolonged reward anticipation, both control and memory performances were enhanced, specifically when combined with other experimental factors: task-informative cues (control task) and reward uncertainty (memory task). Given observations of ramping DA under uncertainty (Fiorillo et al., 2003) and arguments that uncertainty may act as a control signal increasing environmental monitoring (Mushtaq et al., 2011), we suggest that task information and reward uncertainty can both serve as "need for control" signals that facilitate learning via enhanced monitoring, and that this activity may be supported by a ramping profile of dopaminergic activity. Observations of rapid (i.e., phasic) reward on control and memory performance can be interpreted in line with prior evidence, but review indicates that contributions of different dopaminergic timescales in these processes are not well-understood. Future experimental work to clarify these dynamics and characterize a cross-domain role for reward motivation and DA in goal-directed behavior is suggested.

Keywords: cognitive control; dopamine; episodic memory; temporal dynamics; uncertainty.