In the behavioral sciences, it is common to explain behavior in terms of what was learned in a task, as if any subsequent change in performance had to denote a change in learning. However, learning alone cannot account for variability in performance. Instead, incentive motivation plays a direct role (and is more effective) in controlling moment-to-moment changes in an individual's responses than the learning process. After briefly introducing the history of the study of incentive motivation, we explain that incentive motivation consists of a dopamine-dependent process that does not require consciousness to influence responding to a task. We analyze two Pavlovian situations in which incentive motivation can modulate performance, irrespective of additional learning: the instant transformation of disgust into attraction for salt and the invigoration of responses under reward uncertainty. Finally, we consider drug addiction as an example of motivational dysregulation rather than as a consequence of the habit to consume substances of abuse.
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