Primary and secondary rewards differentially modulate neural activity dynamics during working memory

Stefanie M. Beck, Hannah S. Locke, Adam C. Savine, Koji Jimura, Todd S. Braver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Cognitive control and working memory processes have been found to be influenced by changes in motivational state. Nevertheless, the impact of different motivational variables on behavior and brain activity remains unclear. Methodology/Principal Findings: The current study examined the impact of incentive category by varying on a withinsubjects basis whether performance during a working memory task was reinforced with either secondary (monetary) or primary (liquid) rewards. The temporal dynamics of motivation-cognition interactions were investigated by employing an experimental design that enabled isolation of sustained and transient effects. Performance was dramatically and equivalently enhanced in each incentive condition, whereas neural activity dynamics differed between incentive categories. The monetary reward condition was associated with a tonic activation increase in primarily right-lateralized cognitive control regions including anterior prefrontal cortex (PFC), dorsolateral PFC, and parietal cortex. In the liquid condition, the identical regions instead showed a shift in transient activation from a reactive control pattern (primary probe-based activation) during no-incentive trials to proactive control (primary cue-based activation) during rewarded trials. Additionally, liquid-specific tonic activation increases were found in subcortical regions (amygdala, dorsal striatum, nucleus accumbens), indicating an anatomical double dissociation in the locus of sustained activation. Conclusions/Significance: These different activation patterns suggest that primary and secondary rewards may produce similar behavioral changes through distinct neural mechanisms of reinforcement. Further, our results provide new evidence for the flexibility of cognitive control, in terms of the temporal dynamics of activation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere9251
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Feb 16
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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