Motivational deficits in effort-based decision making in individuals with subsyndromal depression, first-episode and remitted depression patients

Psychiatry Res. 2014 Dec 30;220(3):874-82. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2014.08.056. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


Anhedonia is a hallmark symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD). Preliminary findings suggest that anhedonia is characterized by reduced reward anticipation and motivation of obtaining reward. However, relatively little is known about reward-based decision-making in depression. We tested the hypothesis that anhedonia in MDD may reflect specific impairments in motivation on reward-based decision-making and the deficits might be associated with depressive symptoms severity. In study 1, individuals with and without depressive symptoms performed the modified version of the Effort Expenditure for Rewards Task (EEfRT), a behavioral measure of cost/benefit decision-making. In study 2, MDD patients, remitted MDD patients and healthy controls were recruited for the same procedures. We found evidence for decreased willingness to make effort for rewards among individuals with subsyndromal depression; the effect was amplified in MDD patients, but dissipated in patients with remitted depression. We also found that reduced anticipatory and consummatory pleasure predicted decreased willingness to expend efforts to obtain rewards in MDD patients. For individuals with subsyndromal depression, the impairments were correlated with anticipatory anhedonia but not consummatory anhedonia. These data offer novel evidence that motivational deficits in MDD are correlated with depression severity and predicted by self-reported anhedonia.

Keywords: Anhedonia; Depression; Effort-based decision-making; Motivation; Reward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anhedonia
  • Anticipation, Psychological
  • Decision Making*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Reward
  • Young Adult