Dopamine, motivation, and the evolutionary significance of gambling-like behaviour (2013)

Behav Brain Res. 2013 Jul 26;256C:1-4. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2013.07.039.

Anselme P.


Département de Psychologie, Cognition & Comportement, Université de Liège, 5 Boulevard du Rectorat (B 32), B 4000 Liège, Belgium. Electronic address: [email protected].


If given a choice between certain and uncertain rewards, animals tend to prefer the uncertain option, even when the net gain is suboptimal. Animals are also more responsive to reward-related cues in uncertain situations. This well-documented phenomenon in many animal species is in opposition to the basic principles of reinforcement as well as the optimal foraging theory, which suggest that animals will prefer the option associated with the highest reward rate. How does the brain code the attractiveness of unreliable/poor reward sources? And how can we interpret this evidence from an adaptive point of view? I argue that unpredictability and deprivation – whether physiological or psychological – enhance motivation to seek valuable stimuli for the same reason: compensating the difficulty an organism has to predict significant objects and events in the environment.

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