Learning

Apparent in the preceding discussion is the role of the anterior cingulate cortex in learning novel behaviors, whether as a conditioned response to predictors of painful stimuli, as an instrumental response to avoid such stimuli, or in response to reduced reward. Of interest in this context is the dopamine projection to cingulate cortex from the ventral tegmental area. The ventral tegmental dopamine system is known to be involved in processing rewarding or salient stimuli: Neurons in this area increase firing in response to unpredicted rewards and reduce firing if an expected reward is withheld. Consistent with the notion that dopamine is involved in adaptive behavior in the anterior cingulate cortex, this region, in common with other dopamine-innervated regions, supports self-stimulation. The properties of cortical self-stimulation differ, however, from those of medial forebrain structures—e.g., having longer acquisition times and lower sensitivity to amphetamine modulation—which may question a simple relationship between reinforcement learning in these systems.

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