Biological Determinants of Reinforcement - Vol. 7

Biological Determinants of Reinforcement - Vol. 7

Biological Determinants of Reinforcement - Vol. 7

Biological Determinants of Reinforcement - Vol. 7


The sixth volume in this respected series systematically presents and evaluates quantitative models of various foraging phenomena, including: steady state decision rules; acquisition of decision rules; perception and learning in foraging behavior.


James R. Stellar

The current period of scientific inquiry is probably the brightest yet for the study of the brain mechanisms of the reinforcement processes. In part, this is due to the increasing sophistication of reinforcement measurement techniques, particularly of a quantitative nature. Although the chapters presented in this volume focus on the biology of reinforcement through brain stimulation, drug, or other studies, the entire series illustrates this point for behavior. The idea is that a clearer, more quantitative specification of behavior, more precisely guides research on the underlying mechanisms. For example, the application of psychophysical methods to brain stimulation has produced a number of important findings about the neural substrate of this reinforcement, such as the refractory period, conduction velocity, and direction of conduction of neurons activated by a medial forebrain bundle electrode (Gallistel,Shizgal, &Yeomans, 1981; Stellar &Stellar, 1985; also see chapter 3).

A second part of the current excitement over the study of reinforcement derives from the recent rapid advances seen in the neurosciences that have yielded many different avenues for investigation into the underlying neural mechanisms. In the area of pharmacology alone, many new neurochemical systems, particularly peptides, have been identified just as the precision and variety of drugs has greatly improved (Lajtha, 1985). For example, the neurotransmitter dopamine is a focus of much attention in this book. Twenty-five years ago, dopamine was just making its introduction to neuroscience (Carlsson, 1987), while recently, one of our computer searches of the literature turned up more than 10,000 dopamine-related publications over the last 5 years.

Paradoxically, the spectacular molecular-level advances of neuroscience have also created a tendency to divert attention away from the study of the nervous . . .

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