- The role of the striatum in effort-based decision-making in the absence of reward
- The Journal of Neuroscience
- Volume | Issue number
- 34 | 6
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Decision-making involves weighing costs against benefits, for instance, in terms of the effort it takes to obtain a reward of a given magnitude. This evaluation process has been linked to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the striatum, with activation in these brain structures reflecting the discounting effect of effort on reward. Here, we investigate how cognitive effort influences neural choice processes in the absence of an extrinsic reward. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging in humans, we used an effort-based decision-making task in which participants were required to choose between two options for a subsequent flanker task that differed in the amount of cognitive effort. Cognitive effort was manipulated by varying the proportion of incongruent trials associated with each choice option. Choice-locked activation in the striatum was higher when participants chose voluntarily for the more effortful alternative but displayed the opposite trend on forced-choice trials. The dACC revealed a similar, yet only trend-level significant, activation pattern. Our results imply that activation levels in the striatum reflect a cost-benefit analysis, in which a balance is made between effort discounting and the intrinsic motivation to choose a cognitively challenging task. Moreover, our findings indicate that it matters whether this challenge is voluntarily chosen or externally imposed. As such, the present findings contrast with classical findings on effort discounting that found reductions in striatum activation for higher effort by finding enhancements of the same neural circuits when a cognitively challenging task is voluntarily selected and does not entail the danger of losing reward.
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