Dissociating motivation from reward in human striatal activity

J Cogn Neurosci. 2014 May;26(5):1075-84. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00535. Epub 2013 Dec 17.


Neural activity in the striatum has consistently been shown to scale with the value of anticipated rewards. As a result, it is common across a number of neuroscientific subdiscliplines to associate activation in the striatum with anticipation of a rewarding outcome or a positive emotional state. However, most studies have failed to dissociate expected value from the motivation associated with seeking a reward. Although motivation generally scales positively with increases in potential reward, there are circumstances in which this linkage does not apply. The current study dissociates value-related activation from that induced by motivation alone by employing a task in which motivation increased as anticipated reward decreased. This design reverses the typical relationship between motivation and reward, allowing us to differentially investigate fMRI BOLD responses that scale with each. We report that activity scaled differently with value and motivation across the striatum. Specifically, responses in the caudate and putamen increased with motivation, whereas nucleus accumbens activity increased with expected reward. Consistent with this, self-report ratings indicated a positive association between caudate and putamen activity and arousal, whereas activity in the nucleus accumbens was more associated with liking. We conclude that there exist regional limits on inferring reward expectation from striatal activation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult