Neural Mechanisms Underlying Motivation of Mental Versus Physical Effort

Schmidt, L. et al.
PLos Biology

Incentive motivation refers to the process in the brain by which we translate the expectation of a potential reward into the effort required to do an action, as for instance when the expected paycheck brings the employee to work. Different types of effort can be implemented in everyday life, some being more cognitive, like paying attention, and others more motor-involved, like lifting weights. Reward, cognitive, and motor representations are known to rely on distinct regions of the frontal cortex and basal ganglia. However, how expected rewards motivate these different types of efforts remains poorly understood. Here, we addressed this question by developing a functional neuroimaging approach where we independently varied a monetary reward as well as the cognitive and motor demand of the task. Our results suggest that the expectation of a reward is encoded in the ventral striatum, which can then drive either the motor or cognitive part of the dorsal striatum, depending on the task, in order to boost behavioral performance. We conclude that intra-striatal effective connectivity may explain how both motor and cognitive efforts can be driven by a single motivational module.

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