Understanding dopamine and reinforcement learning: the dopamine reward prediction error hypothesis.
A number of recent advances have been achieved in the study of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Understanding these advances and how they relate to one another requires a deep understanding of the computational models that serve as an explanatory framework and guide ongoing experimental inquiry. This intertwining of theory and experiment now suggests very clearly that the phasic activity of the midbrain dopamine neurons provides a global mechanism for synaptic modification. These synaptic modifications, in turn, provide the mechanistic underpinning for a specific class of reinforcement learning mechanisms that now seem to underlie much of human and animal behavior. This review describes both the critical empirical findings that are at the root of this conclusion and the fantastic theoretical advances from which this conclusion is drawn.