A functional neuroimaging study of motivation and executive function.

Citation: Taylor, S. F., Welsh, R. C., Wager, T. D., Phan, K. L., Fitzgerald, K. D., Gehring, W. J.. (2004). A functional neuroimaging study of motivation and executive function. Neuroimage, 3, 1045-54.

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Executive functions, such as working memory, must intersect with functions that determine value for the organism. Functional imaging work in humans and single-unit recordings in non-human primates provide evidence that PFC might integrate motivational context with working memory. With functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we addressed the question of motivation and working memory, using a trial-related design in an object-working memory task. The design permitted the analysis of BOLD signal at separate stages, corresponding to encoding, maintenance, and retrieval. Subjects were motivated by a financial incentive during the task, such that they could gain a high or a low reward. The two different levels of reward also entailed greater or lesser risk of losing money for incorrect responses. In the high, relative to the low, reward condition, subjects shifted response bias, and showed a trend to greater sensitivity. We found main effects in fMRI BOLD signal for reward, which overlapped with BOLD effects for maintenance of information, in the right superior frontal sulcus and bilateral intraparietal sulcus. We also found an interaction between reward and retrieval from working memory in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Main effects of load and reward occurred in adjacent regions of the ventrolateral PFC during retrieval. The data demonstrate that when subjects perform a simple working memory task, financial incentives motivate performance and interact with some of the same neural networks that process various stages of working memory. Areas of overlap and interaction may integrate information about value, or they may represent a general effect of motivation increasing neural effort.