Considerable experimental and clinical evidence links forebrain dopamine (DA) systems to the performance of motor activities and to motivational processes. Much of the support for this conclusion was obtained from studies utilizing lesions or drugs to manipulate aspects of central dopaminergic function. Although such experiments yield important information concerning the behavioral consequences of interference with DA systems in brain, they do not demonstrate any relation between the dynamic activity of DA neurons and the level or type of motor function exhibited by the organism. This review discusses the emerging field of behavioral neurochemistry, and provides an overview of recent studies investigating the relation between nucleus accumbens DA release and behavior. Particular emphasis is placed upon current research involving microdialysis, voltammetry and electrophysiology. These different methods are viewed as complementary techniques for investigating the activity of DA systems in behaving animals. Evidence indicates that DA activity is most reliably activated by stimuli that trigger instrumental behavior and during the preparatory or instrumental phase of motivated behavior. The effects of consummatory reactions to positive reinforcers are somewhat equivocal; with food consumption, dialysis studies have yielded inconsistent results, while some voltammetric and electrophysiological studies have shown that DA activity in accumbens or ventral tegmental area actually decreases during consumption of food reinforcement. Moreover, the responsiveness of accumbens DA activity during behavioral stimulation is not unique to appetitive conditions, as several studies have shown that aversive or stressful conditions also stimulate accumbens DA release or metabolism. It is reasonable to suggest at this time that accumbens DA neurons are activated by a variety of different motivational conditions, but that the consequence of that activation is to modulate the behavioral reactivity of the organism. This type of function is seen as representing an area of overlap between motor and motivational processes.