Animal Learning & Behavior

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 1-18

First online:

Motivational control of goal-directed action

  • Anthony DickinsonAffiliated withUniversity of Cambridge, Department of Experimental Psychology
  • , Bernard BalleineAffiliated withUniversity of Cambridge, Department of Experimental Psychology


The control of goal-directed, instrumental actions by primary motivational states, such as hunger and thirst, is mediated by two processes. The first is engaged by the Pavlovian association between contextual or discriminative stimuli and the outcome or reinforcer presented during instrumental training. Such stimuli exert a motivational influence on instrumental performance that depends upon the relevance of the associated outcome to the current motivational state of the agent. Moreover, the motivational effects of these stimuli operate in the absence of prior experience with the outcome under the relevant motivational state. The second, instrumental, process is mediated by knowledge of the contingency between the action and its outcome and controls the value assigned to this outcome. In contrast to the Pavlovian process, motivational states do not influence the instrumental process directly; rather, the agent has to learn about the value of an outcome in a given motivational state by exposure to it while in that state. This incentive learning is similar in certain respects to the acquisition of “cathexes” envisaged by Tolman (1949a, 1949b).