Graduate student Michael Treadway and his professor David Zald performed the study at Vanderbilt University. They asked participants to press a button rapidly in order to earn money. The subjects could choose how hard they wanted to work to make varying sums. Some participants were willing to work very hard, even with smaller odds of a payout, while others weren't.
The research showed that the go-getters had greater dopamine response in the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which are the parts of the brain that deal with reward and motivation. Less-motivated subjects, however, seemed to have increased dopamine response in the insula, which influences perception, social behavior, and self-awareness.
What's all this mean? Well, for one thing, it might help us understand more about the way depression works at the chemical level.
Dopamine expert Marco Leyton, Ph.D, wrote that the study "provides the clearest evidence to date that individual differences in dopamine-related motivation might be a trait. A striking implication highlighted by the authors is that abnormal dopamine transmission could affect a wide range of decision-making processes and susceptibility to depression."
So eventually, it's possible that this work could be used to help slackers become go-getters. And in the short term, it's always nice to have another explanation for your lack of motivation. Science!
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