Recent Developments in Neuroscience Research on Human Motivation: Volume 19

Cover of Recent Developments in Neuroscience Research on Human Motivation

Table of contents

(16 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xi
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Abstract

The rapid progress of neuroscience and the interdisciplinary collaboration between neuroscience and psychology have begun to provide valuable insights for understanding the dynamic and implicit nature of human motivation by identifying the in vivo neural mechanism of motivation. One of the fundamental questions in the field of the neuroscience of motivation is what neural mechanisms underlie the direction, intensity, and guidance of our motivation and subsequent actions. This prologue explains how neuroscience can contribute to the understanding of human motivation. To accomplish this purpose, we present what neuroscientific data look like, identify 13 key motivation-relevant brain structures, and introduce 3 key motivation-centric brain circuits – namely, the reward circuit, the value-based decision-making pathway, and the self-regulation/self-control network.

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Part I: Reward and Approach

Abstract

Drive and motivation are central to affective neuroscience. Here, we describe the development of conceptualizations from early behaviorist theories to contemporary theories linking motivation closely to reward. Current experimental data suggest key roles of drive and motivation in the wanting, liking, and learning processes underlying the pleasure cycle supporting survival of individuals and species. In particular, the underlying functional neuroanatomy of drive and motivation is now becoming clearer in humans and other mammals, which provides hope for novel more effective interventions for the pervasive problems of drive and motivation in affective and addictive disorders.

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Extensive human and animal research has examined approach and withdrawal motivation, which we define as the simple urge to move toward or away, respectively. In this chapter, we review seminal and recent research that showing that asymmetrical frontal cortical activity underlies approach and withdrawal motivation that occur during childhood, that characterize certain psychopathologies, and are present in everyday emotional experiences. Specifically, greater left-frontal activity is involved in approach motivation, including the expression and experience of anger, jealousy, desire, and joy. Conversely, greater right-frontal activity is involved in withdrawal motivation, including the expression and experience of some forms of sadness, crying, and depressed mood. We also review recent research suggesting that connectivity between the frontal and parietal cortices is a potential mechanism for the motivation-related effects of asymmetrical frontal activity.

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Neuroscience research on human motivation in the workplace is still in its infancy. There is a large industrial and organizational (IO) psychology literature containing numerous theories of motivation, relating to prosocial and productive, and, less so, “darker” antisocial and counter-productive, behaviors. However, the development of a viable over-arching theoretical framework has proved elusive. In this chapter, we argue that basic neuropsychological systems related to approach, avoidance, and their conflict, may provide such a framework, one which we discuss in terms of the Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) of personality. We argue that workplace behaviors may be understood by reference to the motivational types that are formed from the combination of basic approach, avoidance, and conflict-related personalities. We offer suggestions for future research to explore workplace behaviors in terms of the wider literature on the neuroscience of motivation.

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Part II: Intrinsic Motivation

Abstract

Studies in psychology have long revealed that making personal choice involves multiple motivational consequences. It has only been recent, however, that the literature on neuroscience started to examine the neural underpinnings of personal choice and motivation. This chapter reviews this sparse, but emergent, body of neuroscientific literature to address possible neural correlates underlying personal choice. By conducting the review, we encourage future systematic research programs that address this topic under the new realm of “autonomy neuroscience.” The chapter especially focused on the following motivational aspects: (i) personal choice is rewarding, (ii) personal choice shapes preference, (iii) personal choice changes the perception of outcomes, and (iv) personal choice facilitates motivation and performance. The reviewed work highlighted different aspects of personal choice, but indicated some overlapping brain areas – the striatum and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) – which may play a critical role in motivational processes elicited by personal choice.

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Many psychologists posit that intrinsic motivation generated by personal interest and spontaneous satisfactions is qualitatively different from extrinsic motivation generated by external rewards. However, the contemporary neural understanding of human motivation has been developed almost exclusively based on the neural mechanisms of extrinsic motivation. In neuroscience studies on extrinsic motivation, striatum activity has been consistently observed as the core neural system related to human motivation. Recently, a few studies have started examining the neural system behind intrinsic motivation. Though these studies have found that striatum activity is crucial for the generation of intrinsic motivation, the unique neural basis of intrinsic motivation has not yet been fully identified. I suggest that insular cortex activity, known to be related to intrinsic enjoyment and satisfaction, is a unique neural component of intrinsic motivation. In this chapter, I addressed the theoretical background to and empirical evidence for this postulation.

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Based on a synthesis of findings from psychology, neuroscience, and machine learning, we propose a unified theory of curiosity as a form of motivated cognition. Curiosity, we propose, is comprised of a family of mechanisms that range in complexity from simple heuristics based on novelty, salience, or surprise, to drives based on reward and uncertainty reduction and finally, to self-directed metacognitive processes. These mechanisms, we propose, have evolved to allow agents to discover useful regularities in the world – steering them toward niches of maximal learning progress and away from both random and highly familiar tasks. We emphasize that curiosity arises organically in conjunction with cognition and motivation, being generated by cognitive processes and in turn, motivating them. We hope that this view will spur the systematic study of curiosity as an integral aspect of cognition and decision making during development and adulthood.

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Part III: Motivation and Learning

Abstract

Performance feedback about whether responses are correct or incorrect provides valuable information to help guide learning. Although feedback itself has no extrinsic value, it can produce subjective feelings similar to “rewards” and “punishments.” Therefore, feedback can play both an informative and a motivational role. Over the past decade, researchers have identified a neural circuit that processes reward value and promotes reinforcement learning, involving target regions of dopaminergic input (e.g., striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex). Importantly, this circuit is engaged by performance feedback even in the absence of reward. Recent research suggests that feedback-related brain activity can be modulated by motivational context, such as whether feedback reflects goal achievement, whether learners are oriented toward the informative versus evaluative aspect of feedback, and whether individual learners are motivated to perform well relative to their peers. This body of research suggests that the brain responds flexibly to feedback, based on the learner’s goals.

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Motivation significantly influences learning and memory. While a long history of research has focused on simple forms of associative learning, such as Pavlovian conditioning, recent research is beginning to characterize how motivation influences episodic memory. In this chapter we synthesize findings across behavioral, cognitive, and educational neuroscience to characterize motivation’s influence on memory. We provide evidence that neural systems underlying motivation, namely the mesolimbic dopamine system, interact with and facilitate activity within systems underlying episodic memory, centered on the medial temporal lobes. We focus on two mechanisms of episodic memory enhancement: encoding and consolidation. Together, the reviewed research supports an adaptive model of memory in which an individual’s motivational state (i.e., learning under states of reward or punishment) shapes the nature of memory representations in service of future goals. The impact of motivation on learning and memory, therefore, has very clear implications for and applications to educational settings.

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Classical definitions of motivation typically involve two main components: direction and activation. Motivated behavior is directed toward or away from particular stimuli (i.e., appetitive and aversive motivation). Furthermore, activational aspects of motivation refer to the observation that motivated behavior is characterized by substantial activity, vigor, persistence, and exertion of effort in both the initiation and maintenance of behavior. Although separate neural systems direct organisms toward distinct motivational stimuli (e.g., food, water, sex), there appears to be a common circuitry regulating behavioral activation and the exertion of effort. Mesolimbic dopamine is one of the brain systems mediating activational aspects of motivation and exertion of effort. This system integrates aspects of motivation and motor control functions involved in the instigation of action. Research on the neurobiology of effort has contributed to our understanding of the pathophysiology of neurological and psychiatric disorders that are characterized by motivational dysfunction.

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Part IV: Self-Regulation

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Teenagers are typically described as impulsive and risk taking. Yet recent research shows that this observation does not hold in all contexts. Rather, adolescents show higher impulsivity and risk taking than children or adults in affective contexts. Motivational and affective processes are therefore of particular interest when trying to understand typical adolescent behavior. Additionally, pubertal hormones are hypothesized to play a special role in adolescents’ motivated decision making. However, evidence for the mechanisms underlying this relationship is sparse. In this chapter, we aim to integrate findings from human and animal studies in order to elucidate the specific impact of pubertal hormones on motivational processes in adolescence. Against this background, we critically discuss and reinterpret recent findings in psychology and neuroscience, speculate about underlying mechanisms, and suggest new approaches for future studies of adolescent behavior.

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Engagement, motivation, and persistence are usually associated with positive outcomes. However, too much of it can overtax our psychophysiological system and put it at risk. On the basis of a neuro-dynamic personality and self-regulation model, we explain the neurobehavioral mechanisms presumably underlying engagement and how engagement, when overtaxing the individual, becomes automatically inhibited for reasons of protection. We explain how different intensities and patterns of engagement may relate to personality traits such as Self-directedness, Conscientiousness, Drive for Reward, and Absorption, which we conceive of as functions or strategies of adaptive neurobehavioral systems. We describe how protective inhibitions and personality traits contribute to phenomena such as disengagement and increased effort-sense in chronic fatigue conditions, which often affect professions involving high socio-emotional interactions. By doing so we adduce evidence on hemispheric asymmetry of motivation, neuromodulation by dopamine, self-determination, task engagement, and physiological disengagement. Not least, we discuss educational implications of our model.

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Inhibitory control (IC) is a central executive function that shows significant development throughout the preschool years. IC is known as a factor that underlies the ability to self-regulate in daily situations. This ability is challenged when a child faces negative emotions; a challenge that is seen in children’s IC performance and brain activity. This chapter elaborates on the effects that negative emotional experiences have on children’s IC functioning. Moreover, previous studies regarding the way emotional experiences are reflected in brain activity are included. Additionally, this chapter will offer a comprehensive review of the factors affecting individual differences in IC, including the role of children’s temperamental effortful control and negative affectivity. Further, the role of parenting behaviors will be discussed, focusing on the way in which maternal self-regulation influences child inhibitory control, including related educational implications.

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We reflect upon the histories of the behavioral science and the neuroscience of motivation, taking note of how these increasingly consilient disciplines inform each other. This volume’s chapters illustrate how the field has moved beyond the study of immediate external rewards to the examination of neural mechanisms underlying varied motivational and appetitive states. Exemplifying this trend, we focus on emerging knowledge about intrinsic motivation, linking it with research on both the play and exploratory behaviors of nonhuman animals. We also speculate about large-scale brain networks related to salience processing as a possibly unique component of human intrinsic motivation. We further review emerging studies on neural correlates of basic psychological needs during decision making that are beginning to shine light on the integrative processes that support autonomous functioning. As with the contributions in this volume, such research reflects the increasing iteration between mechanistic studies and contemporary psychological models of human motivation.

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About the Authors

Pages 371-378
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Cover of Recent Developments in Neuroscience Research on Human Motivation
DOI
10.1108/S0749-7423201719
Publication date
2016-11-21
Book series
Advances in Motivation and Achievement
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78635-474-7
eISBN
978-1-78635-473-0
Book series ISSN
0749-7423