Amygdala and Ventral Striatum Make Distinct Contributions to Reinforcement Learning

Vincent D. Costa, Olga Dal Monte, Daniel R. Lucas, Elisabeth A. Murray, Bruno B. Averbeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Reinforcement learning (RL) theories posit that dopaminergic signals are integrated within the striatum to associate choices with outcomes. Often overlooked is that the amygdala also receives dopaminergic input and is involved in Pavlovian processes that influence choice behavior. To determine the relative contributions of the ventral striatum (VS) and amygdala to appetitive RL, we tested rhesus macaques with VS or amygdala lesions on deterministic and stochastic versions of a two-arm bandit reversal learning task. When learning was characterized with an RL model relative to controls, amygdala lesions caused general decreases in learning from positive feedback and choice consistency. By comparison, VS lesions only affected learning in the stochastic task. Moreover, the VS lesions hastened the monkeys’ choice reaction times, which emphasized a speed-accuracy trade-off that accounted for errors in deterministic learning. These results update standard accounts of RL by emphasizing distinct contributions of the amygdala and VS to RL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-517
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 19 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bayesian
  • Pearce-Hall
  • Rescorla-Wagner
  • amygdala
  • associability
  • decision making
  • lesion
  • reinforcement learning
  • speed-accuracy trade-off
  • ventral striatum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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