Motivation and cognitive control: from behavior to neural mechanism

Annu Rev Psychol. 2015 Jan 3;66:83-113. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010814-015044. Epub 2014 Sep 12.


Research on cognitive control and executive function has long recognized the relevance of motivational factors. Recently, however, the topic has come increasingly to center stage, with a surge of new studies examining the interface of motivation and cognitive control. In the present article we survey research situated at this interface, considering work from cognitive and social psychology and behavioral economics, but with a particular focus on neuroscience research. We organize existing findings into three core areas, considering them in the light of currently vying theoretical perspectives. Based on the accumulated evidence, we advocate for a view of control function that treats it as a domain of reward-based decision making. More broadly, we argue that neuroscientific evidence plays a critical role in understanding the mechanisms by which motivation and cognitive control interact. Opportunities for further cross-fertilization between behavioral and neuroscientific research are highlighted.

Keywords: cognitive control; effort; motivation; prefrontal cortex; reward.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrum / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Reward*