The neural basis of motivational influences on cognitive control

Hum Brain Mapp. 2018 Dec;39(12):5097-5111. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24348. Epub 2018 Aug 18.


Cognitive control mechanisms support the deliberate regulation of thought and behavior based on current goals. Recent work suggests that motivational incentives improve cognitive control and has begun to elucidate critical neural substrates. We conducted a quantitative meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of motivated cognitive control using activation likelihood estimation (ALE) and Neurosynth to delineate the brain regions that are consistently activated across studies. The analysis included studies that investigated changes in brain activation during cognitive control tasks when reward incentives were present versus absent. The ALE analysis revealed consistent recruitment in regions associated with the frontoparietal control network including the inferior frontal sulcus and intraparietal sulcus, as well as regions associated with the salience network including the anterior insula and anterior mid-cingulate cortex. As a complementary analysis, we performed a large-scale exploratory meta-analysis using Neurosynth to identify regions that are recruited in studies using of the terms cognitive control and incentive. This analysis replicated the ALE results and also identified the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens, medial thalamus, inferior frontal junction, premotor cortex, and hippocampus. Finally, we separately compared recruitment during cue and target periods, which tap into proactive engagement of rule-outcome associations, and the mobilization of appropriate viscero-motor states to execute a response, respectively. We found that largely distinct sets of brain regions are recruited during cue and target periods. Altogether, these findings suggest that flexible interactions between frontoparietal, salience, and dopaminergic midbrain-striatal networks may allow control demands to be precisely tailored based on expected value.

Keywords: cognitive control; control network; frontoparietal; reward.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Humans
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Reward*