Scientists Say: Ventral striatum

This area of the brain influences motivation, reward and more

Different areas of the brain do different things. The ventral striatum — located deep inside in the brain — plays roles in mood, addiction and learning.

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Ventral striatum (noun, “VEN-trahl St-EYE-ay-tum”)

This is an area of the brain that sits in the center, just above and behind your ears. It’s actually a conglomeration of several brain areas together. It includes an area called the nucleus accumbens, part of an area called the caudate, part of another area called the putamen and a brain area called the olfactory tubercle.

These brain areas get grouped together because they all play a role in how people make decisions and respond to rewards. The ventral striatum helps someone determine that a pizza is rewarding, and that they want more of it. It also plays a role in motivation — whether we want to try something. That means that the ventral striatum is important in things like mood, learning and addiction.

To do its job, the ventral striatum relies heavily on dopamine. This is a molecule that acts as a messenger between brain cells. Dopamine signals rise in the ventral striatum in response to things that are rewarding or worth paying attention to. They fall when we expect a reward — and don’t get it.

In a sentence

The ventral striatum reaches adulthood faster than the rest of the brain, which can change how a teen makes decisions.

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Bethany is the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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