Recent studies point to a number of learning and modulatory processes that contribute to food-seeking. Distinct learning processes mediate the acquisition of goal-directed and habitual actions and are subserved by parallel circuits involving the dorsomedial and dorsolateral striatum, respectively. In addition, food can function as an incentive, to reward actions, and as a reinforcer, to strengthen habits. Evidence suggests that two forms of incentive process affect food seeking: (i) the experienced value of a particular food based on consummatory experience, and (ii) the predicted value of a particular action based on cues that predict food delivery. Although incentive theories generally assume that these processes are mediated by a common associative mechanism, a number of recent findings suggest that they are dissociable behaviorally, anatomically, and neurochemically. The latter predictive learning process also may play a role in habitual food-seeking, particularly in the function of the reinforcement signal, long ascribed to the dopaminergic input to dorsolateral striatum which we have found is heavily regulated by the central amygdala. As the basolateral amygdala is heavily involved in reward processing, it appears the amygdala plays the generally role of parsing food events into the reward and reinforcement signals that support goal-directed and habitual action control, respectively.
CE: No credit for BACB