Dissociable effects of motivation and expectancy on conflict processing: an fMRI study

J Cogn Neurosci. 2015 Feb;27(2):409-23. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00712.


Previous studies suggest that both motivation and task difficulty expectations activate brain regions associated with cognitive control. However, it remains an open question whether motivational and cognitive determinants of control have similar or dissociable impacts on conflict processing on a neural level. The current study tested the effects of motivation and conflict expectancy on activity in regions related to processing of the target and the distractor information. Participants performed a picture-word interference task in which we manipulated the size of performance-dependent monetary rewards (level of motivation) and the ratio of congruent to incongruent trials within a block (level of conflict expectancy). Our results suggest that motivation improves conflict processing by facilitating task-relevant stimulus processing and task difficulty expectations mainly modulate the processing of distractor information. We conclude that motivation and conflict expectancy engage dissociable control strategies during conflict resolution.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult