From both a medical and educational perspective, there is enormous value to understanding the environmental factors that sculpt learning and decision making. These questions are often approached from proximate levels of analysis, but may be further informed by the adaptive developmental plasticity framework used in evolutionary biology. The basic adaptive developmental plasticity framework posits that biological sensitive periods evolved to use information from the environment to sculpt emerging phenotypes. Here, we lay out how we can apply this framework to learning and decision making in the mammalian brain and propose a working model in which dopamine neurons and their activity may serve to inform downstream circuits about environmental statistics. More widespread use of this evolutionary framework and its associated models can help inform and guide basic research and intervention science.

Wan Chen Lin, Kristen Delevich, Linda Wilbrecht, A role for adaptive developmental plasticity in learning and decision making, 36 Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences pp 48–54 (2020),,