The rewarding value of good motor performance in the context of monetary incentives

Neuropsychologia. 2012 Jul;50(8):1739-47. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.03.030. Epub 2012 May 6.


Whether an agent receives positive task feedback or a monetary reward, neural activity in their striatum increases. In the latter case striatal activity reflects extrinsic reward processing, while in the former, striatal activity reflects the intrinsically rewarding effects of performing well. There can be a "hidden cost of reward", which is a detrimental effect of extrinsic on intrinsic reward value. This raises the question how these two types of reward interact. To address this, we applied a monetary incentive delay task: in all trials participants received feedback depending on their performance. In half of the trials they could additionally receive monetary reward if they performed well. This resulted in high performance trials, which were monetarily rewarded and high performance trials that were not. This made it possible to dissociate the neural correlates of performance feedback from the neural correlates of monetary reward that comes with high performance. Performance feedback alone elicits activation increases in the ventral striatum. This activation increases due to additional monetary reward. Neural response in the dorsal striatum on the other hand is only significantly increased by feedback when a monetary incentive is present. The quality of performance does not significantly influence dorsal striatum activity. In conclusion, our results indicate that the dorsal striatum is primarily sensitive to optional or actually received external rewards, whereas the ventral striatum may be coding intrinsic reward due to positive performance feedback. Thus the ventral striatum is suggested to be involved in the processing of intrinsically motivated behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Feedback, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward*