Wolfram Schultz pioneered the analysis of pathways in the brain that are fundamental to our ability to balance risk and reward. His discoveries relate not only to psychology and neuroscience, but also to other areas of human activity such as management and economics.
Pathways that carry the neurotransmitter dopamine connect the midbrain with higher brain areas associated with learning. Wolfram discovered that cells in this pathway change their activity according to how well animals and humans make predictions about expected rewards. Broadly, they release more dopamine if things turn out better than we expect, and less if they turn out worse. They signal this ‘prediction error’ in compliance with formal utility, linking psychological and economic theories.
Wolfram’s findings have stimulated psychological and economic theories about what motivates our choices, and how we modify our behaviour in the light of experience. Amongst many awards, he received the 2005 Ipsen Prize, the 2010 FENS–EJN Award, and the 2013 Zülch Prize of the Max Planck Society. He is former President of the European Brain and Behaviour Society.