Individual Differences in Premotor Brain Systems Underlie Behavioral Apathy

Cereb Cortex. 2016 Feb;26(2):807-819. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv247. Epub 2015 Nov 12.


Lack of physical engagement, productivity, and initiative-so-called "behavioral apathy"--is a common problem with significant impact, both personal and economic. Here, we investigate whether there might be a biological basis to such lack of motivation using a new effort and reward-based decision-making paradigm, combined with functional and diffusion-weighted imaging. We hypothesized that behavioral apathy in otherwise healthy people might be associated with differences in brain systems underlying either motivation to act (specifically in effort and reward-based decision-making) or in action processing (transformation of an intention into action). The results demonstrate that behavioral apathy is associated with increased effort sensitivity as well as greater recruitment of neural systems involved in action anticipation: supplementary motor area (SMA) and cingulate motor zones. In addition, decreased structural and functional connectivity between anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and SMA were associated with increased behavioral apathy. These findings reveal that effort sensitivity and translation of intentions into actions might make a critical contribution to behavioral apathy. We propose a mechanism whereby inefficient communication between ACC and SMA might lead to increased physiological cost--and greater effort sensitivity--for action initiation in more apathetic people.

Keywords: action initiation; anterior cingulate cortex; cingulum bundle; motivation; supplementary motor area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Apathy / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Decision Making
  • Feedback, Sensory
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Individuality*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / blood supply
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / blood supply
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychophysics
  • Reward
  • Self Report
  • White Matter / physiology
  • Young Adult