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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2014 Jun;39(7):1558-67. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.27. Epub 2014 Feb 5.

Dissociable contributions of anterior cingulate cortex and basolateral amygdala on a rodent cost/benefit decision-making task of cognitive effort.

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Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Personal success often requires the choice to expend greater effort for larger rewards, and deficits in such effortful decision making accompany a number of illnesses including depression, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Animal models have implicated brain regions such as the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in physical effort-based choice, but disentangling the unique contributions of these two regions has proven difficult, and effort demands in industrialized society are predominantly cognitive in nature. Here we utilize the rodent cognitive effort task (rCET), a modification of the five-choice serial reaction-time task, wherein animals can choose to expend greater visuospatial attention to obtain larger sucrose rewards. Temporary inactivation (via baclofen-muscimol) of BLA and ACC showed dissociable effects: BLA inactivation caused hard-working rats to 'slack off' and 'slacker' rats to work harder, whereas ACC inactivation caused all animals to reduce willingness to expend mental effort. Furthermore, BLA inactivation increased the time needed to make choices, whereas ACC inactivation increased motor impulsivity. These data illuminate unique contributions of BLA and ACC to effort-based decision making, and imply overlapping yet distinct circuitry for cognitive vs physical effort. Our understanding of effortful decision making may therefore require expanding our models beyond purely physical costs.

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