Motivation and cognitive control in the human prefrontal cortex

Nat Neurosci. 2009 Jul;12(7):939-45. doi: 10.1038/nn.2321. Epub 2009 Jun 7.


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) subserves cognitive control, that is, the ability to select thoughts or actions in relation to internal goals. Little is known, however, about how the PFC combines motivation and the selection processes underlying cognitive control. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging in humans and found that the medial and lateral PFC have a parallel hierarchical organization from posterior to anterior regions for motivating and selecting behaviors, respectively. Moreover, using functional connectivity analyses, we found that functional interactions in this parallel system from medial to lateral PFC regions convey motivational incentives on the basis of rewards/penalties regulating the differential engagement of lateral PFC regions in top-down selection. Our results indicate that motivation is a dissociable function, reveal how the PFC integrates motivation and cognitive control in the service of decision-making, and have major implications for current theories of prefrontal executive function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Young Adult