The neural basis of effort valuation: A meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Dec:131:1275-1287. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.10.024. Epub 2021 Oct 25.


Choosing how much effort to expend is critical for everyday decisions. While several neuroimaging studies have examined effort-based decision-making, results have been highly heterogeneous, leaving unclear which brain regions process effort-related costs and integrate them with rewards. We conducted two meta-analyses of functional magnetic resonance imaging data to examine consistent neural correlates of effort demands (23 studies, 15 maps, 549 participants) and net value (15 studies, 11 maps, 428 participants). The pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA) scaled positively with pure effort demand, whereas the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) showed the opposite effect. Moreover, regions that have been previously implicated in value integration in other cost domains, such as the vmPFC and ventral striatum, were consistently involved in signaling net value. The opposite response patterns of the pre-SMA and vmPFC imply that they are differentially involved in the representation of effort costs and value integration. These findings provide conclusive evidence that the vmPFC is a central node for net value computation and reveal potential brain targets to treat motivation-related disorders.

Keywords: Effort; Effort-based decision making; Meta-analysis; Subjective value; Supplementary motor area; Value integration; Ventromedial prefrontal cortex; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Decision Making* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reward
  • Ventral Striatum*