Existing evidence suggests that reward and attentional networks function in concert and that activation in one system influences the other in a reciprocal fashion; however, the nature of these influences remains poorly understood. We therefore developed a three-component task to assess the interaction effects of reward anticipation and conflict resolution on the behavioral performance and the activation of brain reward and attentional systems. Sixteen healthy adult volunteers aged 21–45 years were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing the task. A two-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with cue (reward vs. non-reward) and target (congruent vs. incongruent) as within-subjects factors was used to test for main and interaction effects. Neural responses to anticipation, conflict, and reward outcomes were tested. Behaviorally there were main effects of both reward cue and target congruency on reaction time. Neuroimaging results showed that reward anticipation and expected reward outcomes activated components of the attentional networks, including the inferior parietal and occipital cortices, whereas surprising non-rewards activated the frontoinsular cortex bilaterally and deactivated the ventral striatum. In turn, conflict activated a broad network associated with cognitive control and motor functions. Interaction effects showed decreased activity in the thalamus, anterior cingulated gyrus, and middle frontal gyrus bilaterally when difficult conflict trials (e.g., incongruent targets) were preceded by reward cues; in contrast, the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex showed greater activation during congruent targets preceded by reward cues. These results suggest that reward anticipation is associated with lower activation in attentional networks, possibly due to increased processing efficiency, whereas more difficult, conflict trials are associated with lower activity in regions of the reward system, possibly because such trials are experienced as less rewarding.
Ivanov, I., Liu, X., Clerkin, S., Schulz, K., Friston, K., Newcorn, J. H. & Fan, J. (2012). Effects of motivation on reward and attentional networks: an fMRI study. Brain and Behavior, 2(6), 741-753. doi:10.1002/brb3.80.