Is There A General Motivation Center In The Depths Of The Brain
- Researchers have identified the part of the brain driving motivation during actions that combine physical and mental effort: the ventral striatum.
A team coordinated by Mathias Pessiglione, Inserm researcher at the “Centre de recherche en neurosciences de la Pitié Salpêtrière” have identified the part of the brain driving motivation during actions that combine physical and mental effort: the ventral striatum.
The results of their study were published in PLoS Biology on 21 February 2012.
The results of an activity partly depend on the efforts devoted to it, which may be incentive-motivated. For example, a sportsperson is likely to train with “increased intensity” if the result will bring social prestige or financial gain. The same can be said for students who study for their exams with the objective of succeeding in their professional career. What happens when physical and mental efforts are required to reach an objective?
Mathias Pessiglione and his team from Inserm unit 975 “Centre de recherche en neurosciences de la Pitié-Salpêtrière” examined whether mental and physical efforts are driven by a motivation ‘centre’ or whether they are conducted by different parts of the brain. The researchers studied the neural mechanisms resulting from activities that combine both action and cognition.
The Brain Circuits Underlying Motivation: An Interactive Graphic
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What is motivation? The brain systems that govern motivation are built over time, starting in the earliest years of development. These intricate neural circuits and structures are shaped by interactions between the experiences we have and the genes we are born with, which together influence both how our motivation systems develop and how they function later in life.
In the interactive graphic above, hover over or click the labels on the brain regions to learn more about how each region affects motivation, and hover over or click the highlighted text to the left of the brain image to see how those regions interact.
Brain illustration by Betsy Hayes
More Details About The Lobes Of The Brain
The temporal lobes are on either side of the brain, nearest to the ears. Their main roles involve memory processing, hearing and language.
Both temporal lobes store general knowledge. General knowledge is different from the types of memory that relate to day-to-day experiences. The left temporal lobe helps to understand language, and usually stores facts and the meanings of words. The right temporal lobe deals with visual information, such as recognising familiar objects and faces.
Within each temporal lobe is a region called the hippocampus, which processes memories to allow them to be stored and found when needed. Damage to the hippocampus makes it difficult to learn new things. The hippocampus also sends important information to be stored in other parts of the cerebral cortex. It is important for memory of events and experiences .
The temporal lobes also help to understand what is being heard. Damage to the temporal lobes, particularly to an area called the auditory cortex, can make it more difficult for the hippocampus to form memories of what has just been heard.
Alzheimers disease often starts in and around the hippocampus, before it spreads to other parts of the brain. This is why one of the first symptoms many people notice is memory loss.
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What Do The Parts Of The Brain Control
The brain is the most complex part of the body. It controls our movements, communication, decisions and emotions, as well as our organs. Neuroscientists from Duke University write that the human brain is composed of six basic parts: the medulla oblongata, the pons, the midbrain, the cerebellum, the diencephalon and the cerebrum.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Different brain parts often work together to control the body’s actions. Large areas are devoted to complex functions, such as the ability to have thoughts and feelings, to express them using language and to store them in memory. Neuroscientists are still working on deciphering which parts of the brain work together to accomplish such functions.
Ventricles And Cerebrospinal Fluid
Deep in the brain are four open areas with passageways between them. They also open into the central spinal canal and the area beneath arachnoid layer of the meninges.
The ventricles manufacture cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, a watery fluid that circulates in and around the ventricles and the spinal cord, and between the meninges. CSF surrounds and cushions the spinal cord and brain, washes out waste and impurities, and delivers nutrients.
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What Can We Do
- Structure and routine will help with individuals complete activities
- Use prompts to start and continue activities
- Find activities that are interesting and will increase motivation and interest
- Engaging in the activity with the person may help them get started and keep them involved
- Break tasks down smaller steps and checklists can make the task seem less overwhelming
- Structure and remove clutter from the environment
- Schedule events with built-in rest periods, create task lists, and keep the environment free of distractions
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle that includes sleep, regular exercise, avoiding/limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy diet, and maintaining social contact
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace advice from a medical doctor. Consult a health care provider regarding specific medical concerns or treatment.
The Anterior Cingulate Gyrus
The anterior cingulate gyrus is in the medial area of the brain and runs longitudinally through the frontal lobes. It is the part of the brain that makes humans flexible and capable of perceiving choices in life.
That is why it is sometimes called the brain gearshift. People with healthy activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus are generally cooperative and more adaptable to change.
People with anterior cingulate gyrus imbalance, on the other hand, generally worry too much about the future, hold a grudge about things in the past, and feel insecure in the world. Some serious psychiatric disorders associated with abnormal anterior cingulate gyrus activity include obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and addictive disorders.
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How To Boost Your Own Motivation And Productivity
But now heres the big question: How do you do that? Do you actually have any control over your own dopamine levels? Or is this all just behind-the-scenes brain magic?
Hey, you have more power than you think you do. Research proves that there are indeed certain things you can do to increase dopamine.
Lets explore those studies and a few simple strategies that you can use to give yourself a healthy hit of this helpful neurotransmitter and crank your way through that daily to-do list.
Laziness: Blame It On The Brain
Perhaps you could care less, but newly spotted differences in how our brains work could explain why some people are apathetic and lazy. Scientists say motivation could be more about biology than attitude.
Magnetic resonance imaging scans provided a peek at brain activity in 40 healthy volunteers while they were deciding whether or not to put out some effort in exchange for a reward. The scans revealed distinct differences in the brains of those who had previously scored low on a questionnaire designed to reveal their general level of motivation.
When people decide to do things, the pre-motor cortex tends to light up just before other spots in the brain that control movement become active, study researchers explained in a statement last week. Among the apathetic, making a decision whether or not to do something, the pre-motor cortex fired paradoxically more than in the go-getters.
The scientists figure that the brain connections responsible for the jump from decisions to actual action must be less effective in the apathetic. That would mean their brains would have to work harder to get them off their duffs.
“If it takes more energy to plan an action, it becomes more costly for apathetic people to make actions,” explained one member of the study team, neurology researcher Masud Husain at the University of Oxford. “Their brains have to make more effort.”
A separate study in 2012 suggested that levels of dopamine in the brain could have an impact on motivation, too.
The Hypothalamus And Hippocampus Are Involved In Creating Emotions
This network of neurons is complemented by other parts of the brain close to the limbic system. The hypothalamus and hippocampus are two of the most important.
The first is responsible for releasing all the resulting hormones by the body, while the second controls the mental processes related to memory.
This also allows us to remember and memorize the most transcendental experiences of our existence, those that will later influence the mode of action.
The hippocampus will be in charge of sending these memories to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere that will store them in the long term, so that they are later retrieved when necessary, for example, when we do an exam.
Likewise, the hypothalamus plays a vital role in the regulation of body temperature, the adrenal glands and the pituitary, among many other activities, such as the regulation of hormones, which on many occasions notably mark our behavior and our social projection.
Therefore, it has been found that any damage to the latter structure can result in an inability to form new memories. The anterior part of the brain, known as the diencephalon, is also included in this complex limbic system and contains the thalamus, another very significant structure
Whats The Limbic System
The limbic system is made up of a set of brain structures that are considered very primitive in evolutionary terms, located in the upper part of the brain stem, below the cortex.
It is a network of neurons located in the brain that directly affects human behavior, due to its great influence on moods.
These structures are those that are fundamentally involved in the development of many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those related to survival such as fear, anger and emotions related to sexual behavior.
Fear, joy, sadness, anger All the feelings that we experience in our day to day have a neurological basis in this network.
On the other hand, everything related to the basic sensations of pleasure that occurs when eating or when we practice sex is also directed from this system.
In the same way, our emotions affect other fields of action of the human being, such as concentration or learning. When we feel sad or worried, our ability to focus on an important task becomes more difficult, right? Well, the limbic system is to blame for it.
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Studying Motivation And Behavior
Up until recently, researchers used animals exclusively to study motivation. Setting up a system of rewards, punishments, and reinforcers, psychologists used animals to motivate behaviors in terms of reaching for rewards or avoiding punishments.
Pavlovs dogs are the classic example for conditioned learning. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, the Russian physiologist, psychologist, and physician, studied how dogs salivated when shown food they knew to be appetizing. Hence, they had to previously taste the food, find it likable, and when presented with the food again, they would salivate. Dogs could also be conditioned to salivate with a light or tone. If Pavlov presented a light or tone each time he gave the dogs the tasty food, they would soon begin salivating simply at the sight or sound of the stimulus. He called the stimulus a reinforcer.
In Pavlovs example, the food is the primary or unconditioned reinforcer, and the tone or light is the secondary or conditioned reinforcer. Primary reinforcers motivate behavior without any learning while secondary reinforcers only motivate after learning or conditioning takes place.
Scientists furthered Pavlovs findings by training animals such as rats to perform a certain action to receive a reward or punishment. They trained rats to press a lever to obtain food pellets, for example. This is called instrumental learning.
Amygdala Damage Emotions And Motivation
As noted in the following article on Emotions, studies done on those with brain injuries to the amygdala, a sub cortical structure of the limbic system, exhibit dysfunctional emotional processing.
Similarly, studies on motivation specifically conditioned learning show that some patients with damage to the amygdala have impairments in conditioned learning concerning both positive and negative reinforcers. Researchers today are investigating this link between the amygdala and motivation and how damage to this deep brain structure simultaneously causes emotional impairments.
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Experiences Create Pathways Between Brain Regions: How Motivation Systems Develop
Graphic shows an illustration of a human brain superimposed on the profile of a human head. Various regions of the brain are labeled, including:
- Emotion Triggerrapidly assesses incoming information from the environment and activates either approach or avoidance behaviors. This structure is critical for threat detection and learned fear.
To the left side of the brain graphic are listed the ways in which motivation systems can develop:
Visual Cortex: What Is It And Where Is It
The part of the cortex primarily dedicated to processing visual stimulation from the photoreceptors of the retina is known as the visual cortex. It is one of the most represented senses at the level of the cortex, processing most of the occipital lobe and a small part of the parietal lobes.
Visual information passes ipsilaterally from the eyes to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus and the superior colliculus, finally reaching the cerebral cortex for processing.
Once there, the different information captured by the receivers are worked on and integrated to give them meaning and allow us the real perception of fundamental aspects such as distance, color, shape, depth or movement, and finally to give them a joint meaning.
However, the total integration of visual information does not take place in the visual cortex, but in networks of neurons distributed throughout the rest of the cerebral cortex.
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Motivated To Study Motivations
If you are interested in why and how people become motivated, and you wish to work in the fields of either Neuropsychology or Neuroscience, you should consider an undergraduate or graduate degree in psychology. Advancements in technology have made the study of human motivation and the brain some of the most timely and needed research for todays complex and changing society.
Most careers investigating motivation focus on research and require at least a Ph.D. Public and private laboratories hire those with advanced degrees in the neurosciences.
Break Big Projects Into Smaller Chunks
Youve probably experienced that rush of satisfaction when you check something off of your task list. That, my friend, is a dopamine hit.
Remember, while those dopamine spikes occur when you achieve a reward, theyre doing the majority of their legwork ahead of time. When presented with the potential of a reward, your dopamine levels rise to push you toward it.
But, that means the further away a reward is, the more our motivation will wane. Youve experienced this firsthand. Its harder to muster up motivation to work on a project that you know wont cross the finish line until a few months from now, because the gratification is so delayed.
Breaking your big projects into smaller milestones or actionable tasks is the best way to get more frequent dopamine spikes and actually make progress on those big, hairy assignments.
A micro-task feels way more attainable than a major project. So, the reward of crossing it off feels closer than the completion of the entire project. Your dopamine will kick things up a notch to check off that task. When you do, your dopamine will spike again in response to the reward of completing that to-do, which then powers you through the next task. And the snowball just keeps rolling from there.
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The Cerebral Cortex Creates Consciousness And Thinking
All animals have adapted to their environments by developing abilities that help them survive. Some animals have hard shells, others run extremely fast, and some have acute hearing. Human beings do not have any of these particular characteristics, but we do have one big advantage over other animals we are very, very smart.
You might think that we should be able to determine the intelligence of an animal by looking at the ratio of the animals brain weight to the weight of its entire body. But this does not really work. The elephants brain is one-thousandth of its weight, but the whales brain is only one ten-thousandth of its body weight. On the other hand, although the human brain is one-sixtieth of its body weight, the mouses brain represents one-fortieth of its body weight. Despite these comparisons, elephants do not seem 10 times smarter than whales, and humans definitely seem smarter than mice.