Wolfram Schultz

2018 Neuroscience Prize

Laureate Profile

Wolfram Schultz, MD, of the University of Cambridge, has revolutionized the concept of how reward information is processed in the brain. In a now-classic series of experiments conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, Schultz demonstrated that when animals receive a reward, dopamine neurons in a brain area known as the basal ganglia send a signal that causes the release of the neurotransmitter. He also showed that the neural pattern of the activity changes as the animals learn how to respond to receive the reward — and that learned cues can trigger changes even in the absence of a reward. In further experiments, he identified and described reward-response neurons in additional brain structures, including the orbitofrontal cortex, striatum and amygdala. Through these and other pioneering studies, Schultz demonstrated how theory and experiment could be linked, thus dramatically influencing subsequent research on reward and choice. More recently, Schultz has focused his research on uniting prediction error concepts from animal learning theory with economic utility theory, finding strong evidence suggesting that the dopamine response is related to the concept of utility. Those discoveries are transforming both experimental and theoretical research in the relatively new field of neuroeconomics.