A fundamental question in human cognition relates to how motivational incentives influence behavioral goals. Monetary incentives are well known motivational influences on cognitive and neural processing, but few human neuroimaging studies have explicitly explored the whether and how integration of diverse incentives modulate cognitive task processing. This study aims to investigate how humans integrate primary and secondary incentives to influence cognitive processing of goal-directed tasks. We will use fMRI neuroimaging and computational approaches to test whether motivational signals from primary (liquid) and secondary (monetary) incentives are merged into a `common currency' that is used to bias cognitive processing and decision-making. We will also examine whether incentives of opposing valence will elicit a unified motivational conflict signal that is used to modulated cognitive control and higher-order decisions. Next, we will use multivariate pattern analysis (a machine learning technique) to investigate whether task representations in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) are differentially modulated by monetary vs. liquid incentives. Lastly, we will utilize task-based functional connectivity analysis approaches to examine interactions between motivational and cognitive control brain networks. Specifically, we will examine how monetary and liquid incentives modulate functional properties of these two networks, with a focus on how incentive valence impacts the integration of these networks. We will utilize multiple task-based functional connectivity approaches in order to establish the most powerful method for examining task-based functional connectivity relationships, as well as understand more deeply the neural systems dynamics of motivation-cognition interactions. This project has direct relevance to drug addiction, as impairments in decision-making often accompany the pathological desires for drug-related stimuli. As such, this study will provide fundamental first step towards understanding the basic neural mechanisms that underlie how incentive integration impacts cognitive control and normative decision-making, which will provide a mechanistic framework that can inform how dysregulated neural mechanisms arise in drug addiction.
Drug abuse and addiction are severe mental health disorders that affect 23.5 million Americans (9.3%) ages 12 and older in the United States. Much scientific evidence suggests that the maladaptive behaviors seen in drug addiction are linked to disruptions in the neural circuits that underlie reward processing and higher-order cognition, but these basic neural mechanisms of are not well understood. This study aims to understand how different types of incentives (e.g., primary, secondary) are integrated in terms of their motivational influence on cognitive processing in healthy humans, and this framework can be used to inform translational research on the neural mechanisms of drug addiction.