Motivation is a complex process that leads to completion or avoidance of a behavior. Past research strongly implicates the basal ganglia in a circuit integral for the control of motivation. Specifically, the human striatum has been shown to process reward information, differentiating between monetary rewards and punishments in recent neuroimaging experiments. It is unclear, however, how the dorsal striatum, particularly the caudate nucleus, responds to changes in the motivational context of a task. Using an event-related design, where participants were given positive and negative feedback upon guessing the value of an unknown card, we manipulated the motivational context of the task by dividing trials into periods of high incentive (where visual feedback indicated monetary rewards and punishments) and low incentive (where visual feedback indicated only accuracy). We found that activity in the caudate nucleus was strongly influenced by the different incentive periods. The hemodynamic response was characterized by a larger rise at the onset of trials and larger differences between positive and negative feedback during periods of high incentive. These results suggest that changes in motivation are capable of modulating basal ganglia activity, and further support an important role for the caudate nucleus in affective processing.
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