Motivational orientation modulates the neural response to reward

Neuroimage. 2010 Feb 1;49(3):2618-25. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.09.013. Epub 2009 Sep 19.


Motivational orientation defines the source of motivation for an individual to perform a particular action and can either originate from internal desires (e.g., interest) or external compensation (e.g., money). To this end, motivational orientation should influence the way positive or negative feedback is processed during learning situations and this might in turn have an impact on the learning process. In the present study, we thus investigated whether motivational orientation, i.e., extrinsic and intrinsic motivation modulates the neural response to reward and punishment as well as learning from reward and punishment in 33 healthy individuals. To assess neural responses to reward, punishment and learning of reward contingencies we employed a probabilistic reversal learning task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation were assessed with a self-report questionnaire. Rewarding trials fostered activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus (ACC) as well as the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, whereas for punishment an increased neural response was observed in the medial and inferior prefrontal cortex, the superior parietal cortex and the insula. High extrinsic motivation was positively correlated to increased neural responses to reward in the ACC, amygdala and putamen, whereas a negative relationship between intrinsic motivation and brain activation in these brain regions was observed. These findings show that motivational orientation indeed modulates the responsiveness to reward delivery in major components of the human reward system and therefore extends previous results showing a significant influence of individual differences in reward-related personality traits on the neural processing of reward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Reversal Learning / physiology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult