The phasic dopamine reward prediction error response is a major brain signal underlying learning, approach and decision making. This dopamine response consists of two components that reflect, initially, stimulus detection from physical impact and, subsequenttly, reward valuation; dopamine activations by punishers reflect physical impact rather than aversiveness. The dopamine reward signal is distinct from earlier reported and recently confirmed phasic changes with behavioural activation. Optogenetic activation of dopamine neurones in monkeys causes value learning and biases economic choices. The dopamine reward signal conforms to formal economic utility and thus constitutes a utility prediction error signal. In these combined ways, the dopamine reward prediction error signal constitutes a potential neuronal substrate for the crucial economic decision variable of utility.
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