Performance-based incentives tend to increase an individual’s motivation, resulting in enhancements in behavioral output. While much work has focused on understanding how the brain’s reward circuitry influences incentive motivated performance, fewer studies have investigated how such reward representations act on the motor system. Here we measured motor cortical excitability with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) while female and male human participants performed a motoric incentive motivation task for prospective monetary gains and losses. We found that individuals’ performance increased for increasing prospective gains and losses. While motor cortical excitability appeared insensitive to prospective loss, temporal features of motor cortical excitability for prospective gains were modulated by an independent measure of an individual’s subjective preferences for incentive (i.e., loss aversion). Those individuals that were more loss averse had a greater motor cortical sensitivity to prospective gain, closer to movement onset. Critically, behavioral sensitivity to incentive and motor cortical sensitivity to prospective gains were both predicted by loss aversion. Furthermore, causal modeling indicated that motor cortical sensitivity to incentive mediated the relationship between subjective preferences for incentive and behavioral sensitivity to incentive. Together our findings suggest that motor cortical activity integrates information about the subjective value of reward to invigorate incentive motivated performance. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Increasing incentives tend to increase motivation and effort. Using a motoric incentive motivation task and transcranial magnetic stimulation, we studied the motor cortical mechanisms responsible for incentive motivated motor performance. We provide experimental evidence that motor cortical sensitivity to incentive mediates the relationship between subjective preferences for incentive and incentive motivated performance. These results indicate that, rather than simply being a reflection of motor output, motor cortical physiology integrates information about reward value to motivate performance.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)