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In both the wild and the laboratory, animals' preferences for one course of action over another reflect not just reward expectations but also the cost in terms of effort that must be invested in pursuing the course of action. The ventral striatum and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACCd) are implicated in the making of cost-benefit decisions in the rat, but there is little information about how effort costs are processed and influence calculations of expected net value in other mammals including humans. We performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging study to determine whether and where activity in the human brain was available to guide effort-based cost-benefit valuation. Subjects were scanned while they performed a series of effortful actions to obtain secondary reinforcers. At the beginning of each trial, subjects were presented with one of eight different visual cues that they had learned indicated how much effort the course of action would entail and how much reward could be expected at its completion. Cue-locked activity in the ventral striatum and midbrain reflected the net value of the course of action, signaling the expected amount of reward discounted by the amount of effort to be invested. Activity in ACCd also reflected the interaction of both expected reward and effort costs. Posterior orbitofrontal and insular activity, however, only reflected the expected reward magnitude. The ventral striatum and anterior cingulate cortex may be the substrate of effort-based cost-benefit valuation in primates as well as in rats.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





4531 - 4541


Adult, Brain, Brain Mapping, Choice Behavior, Conditioning, Operant, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Female, Humans, Male, Photic Stimulation, Physical Exertion, Young Adult