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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 May 11;107(19):8871-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1002007107. Epub 2010 Apr 26.

Prefrontal cortex mediation of cognitive enhancement in rewarding motivational contexts.

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Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.


Increasing the reward value of behavioral goals can facilitate cognitive processes required for goal achievement. This facilitation may be accomplished by the dynamic and flexible engagement of cognitive control mechanisms operating in distributed brain regions. It is still not clear, however, what are the characteristics of individuals, situations, and neural activation dynamics that optimize motivation-linked cognitive enhancement. Here we show that highly reward-sensitive individuals exhibited greater improvement of working memory performance in rewarding contexts, but exclusively on trials that were not rewarded. This effect was mediated by a shift in the temporal dynamics of activation within right lateral prefrontal cortex, from a transient to predominantly tonic mode, with an additional anticipatory transient boost. In contexts with intermittent rewards, a strategy of proactive cognitive control may enable globally optimal performance to facilitate reward attainment. Reward-sensitive individuals appear preferentially motivated to adopt this resource-demanding strategy, resulting in paradoxical benefits selectively for nonrewarded events.

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