May 22, 2007

The unconscious motivator

reward_basal.jpgA study (PDF) recently reported in Science shows how unconsciously processed information about monetary rewards influences behaviour.

Furthermore, the researchers identify a basal forebrain region that specifically underpin this effect, thus operating as a functional node that drives reward-related behaviour without the need for conscious processing.

How the brain translates money into force: a neuroimaging study of subliminal motivation.

Pessiglione M, Schmidt L, Draganski B, Kalisch R, Lau H, Dolan RJ, Frith CD
Science. 2007 May 11; 316(5826): 904-6

Unconscious motivation in humans is often inferred but rarely demonstrated empirically. We imaged motivational processes, implemented in a paradigm that varied the amount and reportability of monetary rewards for which subjects exerted physical effort. We show that, even when subjects cannot report how much money is at stake, they nevertheless deploy more force for higher amounts. Such a motivational effect is underpinned by engagement of a specific basal forebrain region. Our findings thus reveal this region as a key node in brain circuitry that enables expected rewards to energize behavior, without the need for the subjects;awareness.

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