Catecholaminergic challenge uncovers distinct Pavlovian and instrumental mechanisms of motivated (in)action

Elife. 2017 May 15:6:e22169. doi: 10.7554/eLife.22169.


Catecholamines modulate the impact of motivational cues on action. Such motivational biases have been proposed to reflect cue-based, 'Pavlovian' effects. Here, we assess whether motivational biases may also arise from asymmetrical instrumental learning of active and passive responses following reward and punishment outcomes. We present a novel paradigm, allowing us to disentangle the impact of reward and punishment on instrumental learning from Pavlovian response biasing. Computational analyses showed that motivational biases reflect both Pavlovian and instrumental effects: reward and punishment cues promoted generalized (in)action in a Pavlovian manner, whereas outcomes enhanced instrumental (un)learning of chosen actions. These cue- and outcome-based biases were altered independently by the catecholamine enhancer melthylphenidate. Methylphenidate's effect varied across individuals with a putative proxy of baseline dopamine synthesis capacity, working memory span. Our study uncovers two distinct mechanisms by which motivation impacts behaviour, and helps refine current models of catecholaminergic modulation of motivated action.

Keywords: dopamine; human; learning; motivational biases; neuroscience.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylphenidate / administration & dosage*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motivation / drug effects*
  • Netherlands
  • Volunteers
  • Young Adult


  • Methylphenidate