Neural substrates underlying effort, time, and risk-based decision making in motivated behavior

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2016 Sep:133:233-256. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2016.07.015. Epub 2016 Jul 15.


All mobile organisms rely on adaptive motivated behavior to overcome the challenges of living in an environment in which essential resources may be limited. A variety of influences ranging from an organism's environment, experiential history, and physiological state all influence a cost-benefit analysis which allows motivation to energize behavior and direct it toward specific goals. Here we review the substantial amount of research aimed at discovering the interconnected neural circuits which allow organisms to carry-out the cost-benefit computations which allow them to behave in adaptive ways. We specifically focus on how the brain deals with different types of costs, including effort requirements, delays to reward and payoff riskiness. An examination of this broad literature highlights the importance of the extended neural circuits which enable organisms to make decisions about these different types of costs. This involves Cortical Structures, including the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), the Orbital Frontal Cortex (OFC), the Infralimbic Cortex (IL), and prelimbic Cortex (PL), as well as the Baso-Lateral Amygdala (BLA), the Nucleus Accumbens (NAcc), the Ventral Pallidal (VP), the Sub Thalamic Nucleus (STN) among others. Some regions are involved in multiple aspects of cost-benefit computations while the involvement of other regions is restricted to information relating to specific types of costs.

Keywords: Behavioral activation; Cost-benefit computation; Delay-discounting; Effort-based decision making; Motivation; Risk-discounting.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Reward*