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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2009 Mar;9(1):16-27. doi: 10.3758/CABN.9.1.16.

Effort discounting in human nucleus accumbens.

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  • 1Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.


A great deal of behavioral and economic research suggests that the value attached to a reward stands in inverse relation to the amount of effort required to obtain it, a principle known as effort discounting. In the present article, we present the first direct evidence for a neural analogue of effort discounting. We used fMRI to measure neural responses to monetary rewards in the human nucleus accumbens (NAcc), a structure previously demonstrated to encode reference-dependent reward information. The magnitude of accumbens activation was found to vary with both reward outcome and the degree of mental effort demanded to obtain individual rewards. For a fixed level of reward, the NAcc was less strongly activated following a high-demand for effort than following a low demand. The magnitude of this effect was noted to correlate with preceding activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a region that has been proposed to monitor information-processing demands and to mediate in the subjective experience of effort.

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