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Publication Summary and Abstract

Redgrave, P., Prescott, T.J. & Gurney, K. (1999), Is the short latency dopamine burst too short to signal reinforcement error?, Trends in Neurosciences, 22:146-151.

Unexpected stimuli which are behaviourally significant have the capacity to evoke a short latency, short duration burst of firing in mesencephalic dopamine neurones. An influential interpretation of the experimental data characterising this response proposes that dopamine neurones play a critical role in reinforcement learning by signalling errors in the prediction of future reward. In the present viewpoint we propose a different functional role for the short latency dopamine response in the mechanisms of associative learning. We suggest that the initial burst of dopaminergic firing may represent an essential component in the process of switching attentional and behavioural selections to unexpected, behaviourally important stimuli. This switching response could be a critical prerequisite for associative learning and may be part of a general short latency reaction, mediated by catecholamines, which prepares the organism to react appropriately to biologically significant events.
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