Reward reduces conflict by enhancing attentional control and biasing visual cortical processing

J Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Nov;23(11):3419-32. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00011. Epub 2011 Mar 31.


How does motivation interact with cognitive control during challenging behavioral conditions? Here, we investigated the interactions between motivation and cognition during a response conflict task and tested a specific model of the effect of reward on cognitive processing. Behaviorally, participants exhibited reduced conflict during the reward versus no-reward condition. Brain imaging results revealed that a group of subcortical and fronto-parietal regions was robustly influenced by reward at cue processing and, importantly, that cue-related responses in fronto-parietal attentional regions were predictive of reduced conflict-related signals in the medial pFC (MPFC)/ACC during the upcoming target phase. Path analysis revealed that the relationship between cue responses in the right intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and interference-related responses in the MPFC during the subsequent target phase was mediated via signals in the left fusiform gyrus, which we linked to distractor-related processing. Finally, reward increased functional connectivity between the right IPS and both bilateral putamen and bilateral nucleus accumbens during the cue phase, a relationship that covaried with across-individual sensitivity to reward in the case of the right nucleus accumbens. Taken together, our findings are consistent with a model in which motivationally salient cues are employed to upregulate top-down control processes that bias the selection of visual information, thereby leading to more efficient stimulus processing during conflict conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Bias*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Personality
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Reward*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Visual Cortex / blood supply
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen