The Psychology of Everyday Life: Motivation and the Search For Happiness

The Biology of Money

How is the reward system reactive to intermittent reinforcement?

Our dopaminergic reward system is particularly sensitive to intermittent reinforcement. When a behavior is intermittently reinforced, the reward for a given behavior is irregular and unpredictable. Dopamine neurons are particularly sensitive to novelty and surprise, so when behavior is unpredictably reinforced, each experience of reward comes as a surprise. In fact an unpredicted reward is perhaps three to four times as activating as a predictable reward. This pattern contributes to our vulnerability to gambling, which is defined by intermittent reinforcement.


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