Dopaminergic Mechanisms of Individual Differences in Human Effort-Based Decision-Making
Michael T. Treadway, Joshua W. Buckholtz, Ronald L. Cowan, Neil D. Woodward, Rui Li, M. Sib Ansari, Ronald M. Baldwin, Ashley N. Schwartzman, Robert M. Kessler, and David H. Zald
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 6170-6176
Preferences for different combinations of costs and benefits are a key source of variability in economic decision-making. However, the neurochemical basis of individual differences in these preferences is poorly understood. Studies in both animals and humans have demonstrated that direct manipulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) significantly impacts cost/benefit decision-making, but less is known about how naturally occurring variation in DA systems may relate to individual differences in economic behavior. In the present study, 25 healthy volunteers completed a dual-scan PET imaging protocol with [18F]fallypride and d-amphetamine to measure DA responsivity and separately completed the effort expenditure for rewards task, a behavioral measure of cost/benefit decision-making in humans. We found that individual differences in DA function in the left striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex were correlated with a willingness to expend greater effort for larger rewards, particularly when probability of reward receipt was low. Additionally, variability in DA responses in the bilateral insula was negatively correlated with willingness to expend effort for rewards, consistent with evidence implicating this region in the processing of response costs. These findings highlight the role of DA signaling in striatal, prefrontal, and insular regions as key neurochemical mechanisms underlying individual differences in cost/benefit decision-making.