Motivation alters response bias and neural activation patterns in a perceptual decision-making task

Neuroscience. 2013 May 15;238:135-47. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.02.015. Epub 2013 Feb 18.


Motivation has been demonstrated to affect individuals' response strategies in economic decision-making, however, little is known about how motivation influences perceptual decision-making behavior or its related neural activity. Given the important role motivation plays in shaping our behavior, a better understanding of this relationship is needed. A block-design, continuous performance, perceptual decision-making task where participants were asked to detect a picture of an animal among distractors was used during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The effect of positive and negative motivation on sustained activity within regions of the brain thought to underlie decision-making was examined by altering the monetary contingency associated with the task. In addition, signal detection theory was used to investigate the effect of motivation on detection sensitivity, response bias and response time. While both positive and negative motivation resulted in increased sustained activation in the ventral striatum, fusiform gyrus, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, only negative motivation resulted in the adoption of a more liberal, closer to optimal response bias. This shift toward a liberal response bias correlated with increased activation in the left DLPFC, but did not result in improved task performance. The present findings suggest that motivation alters aspects of the way perceptual decisions are made. Further, this altered response behavior is reflected in a change in left DLPFC activation, a region involved in the computation of perceptual decisions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires