Dopamine antagonism decreases willingness to expend physical, but not cognitive, effort: a comparison of two rodent cost/benefit decision-making tasks

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2015 Mar;40(4):1005-15. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.285. Epub 2014 Oct 20.


Successful decision making often requires weighing a given option's costs against its associated benefits, an ability that appears perturbed in virtually every severe mental illness. Animal models of such cost/benefit decision making overwhelmingly implicate mesolimbic dopamine in our willingness to exert effort for a larger reward. Until recently, however, animal models have invariably manipulated the degree of physical effort, whereas human studies of effort have primarily relied on cognitive costs. Dopamine's relationship to cognitive effort has not been directly examined, nor has the relationship between individuals' willingness to expend mental versus physical effort. It is therefore unclear whether willingness to work hard in one domain corresponds to willingness in the other. Here we utilize a rat cognitive effort task (rCET), wherein animals can choose to allocate greater visuospatial attention for a greater reward, and a previously established physical effort-discounting task (EDT) to examine dopaminergic and noradrenergic contributions to effort. The dopamine antagonists eticlopride and SCH23390 each decreased willingness to exert physical effort on the EDT; these drugs had no effect on willingness to exert mental effort for the rCET. Preference for the high effort option correlated across the two tasks, although this effect was transient. These results suggest that dopamine is only minimally involved in cost/benefit decision making with cognitive effort costs. The constructs of mental and physical effort may therefore comprise overlapping, but distinct, circuitry, and therapeutic interventions that prove efficacious in one effort domain may not be beneficial in another.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Atomoxetine Hydrochloride / pharmacology
  • Attention / drug effects
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Making / drug effects*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Models, Animal
  • Motivation / drug effects*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Norepinephrine / analogs & derivatives
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Physical Exertion / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward
  • Salicylamides / pharmacology
  • Yohimbine / pharmacology


  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors
  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Antagonists
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Salicylamides
  • Yohimbine
  • noradrenalone
  • Atomoxetine Hydrochloride
  • eticlopride
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine