Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Trait Motivation Moderates Neural Activation Associated with Goal Pursuit

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Trait Motivation Moderates Neural Activation Associated with Goal Pursuit

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 March 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract Research has indicated that regions of leftand right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) are involved in integrating the motivational and executive function processes related to, respectively, approach and avoidance goals. Given that sensitivity to pleasant and unpleasant stimuli is an important feature of conceptualizations of approach and avoidance motivation, it is possible that these regions of DLPFC are preferentially activated by valenced stimuli. The present study tested this hypothesis by using a task in which goal pursuit was threatened by distraction from valenced stimuli while functional magnetic resonance imaging data were collected. The analyses examined whether the impact of trait approach and avoidance motivation on the neural processes associated with executive function differed depending on the valence or arousal level of the distractor stimuli. The present findings support the hypothesis that the regions of DLPFC under investigation are involved in integrating motivational and executive function processes, and they also indicate the involvement of a number of other brain areas in maintaining goal pursuit. However, DLPFC did not display differential sensitivity to valence.

Keywords Approach and avoidance motivation . Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex . Emotion . Goal pursuit . Cognitive control . Amygdala . Basal ganglia

Motivation is fundamental to the pursuit of goals, as it is involved in selecting goals on the basis of their predicted value (e.g., reward or punishment), initiating behavior to achieve goals, and maintaining goal-directed action (e.g., Campbell & Pritchard, 1976; Jones, 1955; Lindsley, 1957). A number of theorists have proposed the existence of two fundamental motivational systems, one oriented toward potentially desirable outcomes, termed the approach motivational system, and one oriented toward potentially aversive outcomes, termed the avoidance motivational system (for reviews, see Elliot & Covington, 2001; Lang, Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1998). These motivational systems are hypothesized to form the "basic building blocks that underlie the complexity of human behavior" (Carver, Sutton, & Scheier, 2000, p. 741), because they are central to attaining the goals necessary for survival.

Approach and avoidance motivation are thought to be instantiated in neurobiological systems that are sensitive to the positive/desirable or negative/undesirable properties of stimuli, respectively (Elliot & Thrash, 2002). These systems are theorized to influence attention to and emotional processing of the rewarding and punishing features of stimuli, as well as behavioral responses to motivationally relevant stimuli (Elliot & Thrash, 2002). Individual differences in the activity and/or reactivity of these motivational systems are conceptualized as temperament types, on the basis of research indicating that they are heritable, present early in life, and stable over the lifespan (Clark, Watson, & Mineka, 1994; Elliot & Thrash, 2002).

Another set of processes hypothesized to be necessary for the pursuit of goals are those related to executive function, which are conceptualized as processes involved in the execution of goal-directed action (Banich, 2009). Although both motivation and executive function are thought to be essential to the pursuit of goals, the manner in which they interact is still a matter of debate (Pessoa, 2009).

Integration of motivation and executive function in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex

Consistent with conceptualizations of prefrontal cortex (PFC) as being necessary "to orchestrate thought and action in accordance with internal goals" (E. K. Miller & Cohen, 2001), recent research has implicated dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and surrounding areas as being involved in the integration of the motivation and executive function processes (e. …

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