Activational and effort-related aspects of motivation: neural mechanisms and implications for psychopathology

Salamone, John D.; Yohn, Samantha E.; Lopez-Cruz, Laura; San Miguel, Noemí and Correa, Mercè (2016). Activational and effort-related aspects of motivation: neural mechanisms and implications for psychopathology. Brain, 139(5) pp. 1325–1347.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/aww050

Abstract

Motivation has been defined as the process that allows organisms to regulate their internal and external environment, and control the probability, proximity and availability of stimuli. As such, motivation is a complex process that is critical for survival, which involves multiple behavioural functions mediated by a number of interacting neural circuits. Classical theories of motivation suggest that there are both directional and activational aspects of motivation, and activational aspects (i.e. speed and vigour of both the instigation and persistence of behaviour) are critical for enabling organisms to overcome work-related obstacles or constraints that separate them from significant stimuli. The present review discusses the role of brain dopamine and related circuits in behavioural activation, exertion of effort in instrumental behaviour, and effort-related decision-making, based upon both animal and human studies. Impairments in behavioural activation and effort-related aspects of motivation are associated with psychiatric symptoms such as anergia, fatigue, lassitude and psychomotor retardation, which cross multiple pathologies, including depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, this review also attempts to provide an interdisciplinary approach that integrates findings from basic behavioural neuroscience, behavioural economics, clinical neuropsychology, psychiatry, and neurology, to provide a coherent framework for future research and theory in this critical field. Although dopamine systems are a critical part of the brain circuitry regulating behavioural activation, exertion of effort, and effort-related decision-making, mesolimbic dopamine is only one part of a distributed circuitry that includes multiple neurotransmitters and brain areas. Overall, there is a striking similarity between the brain areas involved in behavioural activation and effort-related processes in rodents and in humans. Animal models of effort-related decision-making are highly translatable to humans, and an emerging body of evidence indicates that alterations in effort-based decision-making are evident in several psychiatric and neurological disorders. People with major depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease show evidence of decision-making biases towards a lower exertion of effort. Translational studies linking research with animal models, human volunteers, and clinical populations are greatly expanding our knowledge about the neural basis of effort-related motivational dysfunction, and it is hoped that this research will ultimately lead to improved treatment for motivational and psychomotor symptoms in psychiatry and neurology

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