Goal-directed instrumental action: contingency and incentive learning and their cortical substrates

Neuropharmacology. 1998 Apr-May;37(4-5):407-19. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3908(98)00033-1.


Instrumental behaviour is controlled by two systems: a stimulus-response habit mechanism and a goal-directed process that involves two forms of learning. The first is learning about the instrumental contingency between the response and reward, whereas the second consists of the acquisition of incentive value by the reward. Evidence for contingency learning comes from studies of reward devaluation and from demonstrations that instrumental performance is sensitive not only the probability of contiguous reward but also to the probability of unpaired rewards. The process of incentive learning is evident in the acquisition of control over performance by primary motivational states. Preliminary lesion studies of the rat suggest that the prelimbic area of prefrontal cortex plays a role in the contingency learning, whereas the incentive learning for food rewards involves the insular cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*