Modulation of working memory function by motivation through loss-aversion


  • Daniel C. Krawczyk,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for BrainHealth and School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas
    2. Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Dallas, Texas
    • Center for BrainHealth®, The University of Texas at Dallas, 2200 Mockingbird Lane, Dallas, TX 75235
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Mark D'Esposito

    1. Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley
    Search for more papers by this author


Cognitive performance is affected by motivation. Few studies, however, have investigated the neural mechanisms of the influence of motivation through potential monetary punishment on working memory. We employed functional MRI during a delayed recognition task that manipulated top-down control demands with added monetary incentives to some trials in the form of potential losses of bonus money. Behavioral performance on the task was influenced by loss-threatening incentives in the form of faster and more accurate performance. As shown previously, we found enhancement of activity for relevant stimuli occurs throughout all task periods (e.g., stimulus encoding, maintenance, and response) in both prefrontal and visual association cortex. Further, these activation patterns were enhanced for trials with possible monetary loss relative to nonincentive trials. During the incentive cue, the amygdala and striatum showed significantly greater activation when money was at a possible loss on the trial. We also evaluated patterns of functional connectivity between regions responsive to monetary consequences and prefrontal areas responsive to the task. This analysis revealed greater delay period connectivity between and the left insula and prefrontal cortex with possible monetary loss relative to nonincentive trials. Overall, these results reveal that incentive motivation can modulate performance on working memory tasks through top-down signals via amplification of activity within prefrontal and visual association regions selective to processing the perceptual inputs of the stimuli to be remembered. Hum Brain Mapp , 2013. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.