Differential roles of human striatum and amygdala in associative learning

Article metrics


Although the human amygdala and striatum have both been implicated in associative learning, only the striatum's contribution has been consistently computationally characterized. Using a reversal learning task, we found that amygdala blood oxygen level–dependent activity tracked associability as estimated by a computational model, and dissociated it from the striatal representation of reinforcement prediction error. These results extend the computational learning approach from striatum to amygdala, demonstrating their complementary roles in aversive learning.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Experimental design and behavioral model fit.
Figure 2: Neural correlates of associability and prediction error term.


  1. 1

    Schultz, W., Dayan, P. & Montague, P.R. Science 275, 1593–1599 (1997).

  2. 2

    O'Doherty, J.P., Dayan, P., Friston, K., Critchley, H. & Dolan, R.J. Neuron 38, 329–337 (2003).

  3. 3

    Delgado, M.R., Li, J., Schiller, D. & Phelps, E.A. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 363, 3787–3800 (2008).

  4. 4

    Davis, M. & Whalen, P.J. Mol. Psychiatry 6, 13–34 (2001).

  5. 5

    Phelps, E.A. in The Human Amygdala (eds. Whalen, P. & Phelps, E.) 204–219 (Guilford Press, New York, 2009).

  6. 6

    Pearce, J.M. & Hall, G. Psychol. Rev. 87, 532–552 (1980).

  7. 7

    Holland, P.C. & Gallagher, M. Trends Cogn. Sci. 3, 65–73 (1999).

  8. 8

    Roesch, M.R., Calu, D.J., Esber, G.R. & Schoenbaum, G. J. Neurosci. 30, 2464–2471 (2010).

  9. 9

    Belova, M.A., Paton, J.J., Morrison, S.E. & Salzman, C.D. Neuron 55, 970–984 (2007).

  10. 10

    Schiller, D., Levy, I., Niv, Y., LeDoux, J.E. & Phelps, E.A. J. Neurosci. 28, 11517–11525 (2008).

  11. 11

    Courville, A.C., Daw, N.D. & Touretzky, D.S. Trends Cogn. Sci. 10, 294–300 (2006).

  12. 12

    Preuschoff, K. & Bossaerts, P. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 1104, 135–146 (2007).

  13. 13

    Behrens, T.E.J., Woolrich, M.W., Walton, M.E. & Rushworth, M.F.S. Nat. Neurosci. 10, 1214–1221 (2007).

  14. 14

    Robbins, T.W., Cador, M., Taylor, J.R. & Everitt, B.J. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 13, 155–162 (1989).

  15. 15

    Baxter, M.G. & Murray, E.A. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 3, 563–573 (2002).

Download references


We thank P. Glimcher, R. Rutledge and E. DeWitt for discussions and comments. This research was supported by a McKnight Foundation Scholar Award, Human Frontiers Science Program grant RGP0036/2009-C, US National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant MH087882 (part of the CRCNS program, to N.D.D.), a James S. McDonnell Foundation grant and NIH grant MH080756 to E.A.P., and NIH grants DA015718 and AG027097 to G.S. This work was also supported by a Seaver Foundation grant to the Center for Brain Imaging.

Author information

E.A.P. and D.S. designed the study and conducted the experiment. J.L. and N.D.D. performed the data analysis. J.L., D.S., G.S., E.A.P. and N.D.D. interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript.

Correspondence to Jian Li.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Text and Figures

Supplementary Figures 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–5 and Supplementary Methods (PDF 3279 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Li, J., Schiller, D., Schoenbaum, G. et al. Differential roles of human striatum and amygdala in associative learning. Nat Neurosci 14, 1250–1252 (2011) doi:10.1038/nn.2904

Download citation

Further reading