Motor cortex excitability reflects the subjective value of reward and mediates its effects on incentive-motivated performance

Joseph K. Galaro, Pablo Celnik, Vikram S. Chib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Performance-based incentives tend to increase an individual’s motivation, resulting in enhancements in behavioral output. While much work has focused on understanding how the brain’s reward circuitry influences incentive-motivated performance, fewer studies have investigated how such reward representations act on the motor system. Here we measured motor cortical excitability with transcranial magnetic stimulation while female and male human participants performed a motoric incentive motivation task for prospective monetary gains and losses. We found that individuals’ performance increased for increasing prospective gains and losses. While motor cortical excitability appeared insensitive to prospective loss, temporal features of motor cortical excitability for prospective gains were modulated by an independent measure of an individual’s subjective preferences for incentive (i.e., loss aversion). Those individuals that were more loss averse had a greater motor cortical sensitivity to prospective gain, closer to movement onset. Critically, behavioral sensitivity to incentive and motor cortical sensitivity to prospective gains were both predicted by loss aversion. Furthermore, causal modeling indicated that motor cortical sensitivity to incentive mediated the relationship between subjective preferences for incentive and behavioral sensitivity to incentive. Together, our findings suggest that motor cortical activity integrates information about the subjective value of reward to invigorate incentive-motivated performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1236-1248
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 13 2019


  • Incentive
  • Motivation
  • Motor excitability
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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