Habit learning and memory in mammals: behavioral and neural characteristics.
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Goal-direct behavior and habit learning represent two forms of instrumental learning; whereas the former is rapidly acquired and regulated by its outcome, the latter is reflexive, elicited by antecedent stimuli rather than their consequences. Habit learning can be generally defined as the acquisition of associations between stimuli and responses. Habits are acquired via experience-dependent plasticity, occurring repeatedly over the course of days or years and becoming remarkably fixed. The distinction between habit learning, as a product of a procedural learning brain system, and a declarative learning system for encoding facts and episodes is based on the hypothesis that memory is composed of multiple systems that have distinct neuroanatomy and operating principles. Here we review recent research analyzing the main behavioral and neural characteristics of habit learning. In particular, we focus on the distinction between goal-directed and habitual behavior, and describe the brain areas and neurotransmitters systems involved in habit learning. The emotional modulation of habit learning in rodents and primates is reviewed, and the implications of habit learning in psychopathology are briefly described.