Sensorimotor Cortex GABA Moderates the Relationship between Physical Exertion and Assessments of Effort

Eric J. Hu, Agostina Casamento-Moran, Joseph K. Galaro, Kimberly L. Chan, Richard A.E. Edden, Nicolaas A.J. Puts, Vikram S. Chib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Experiences of physical exertion guide our assessments of effort. While these assessments critically influence our decisions to engage in daily activities, little is known about how they are generated. We had female and male human participants exert grip force and assess how effortful these exertions felt; and used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure their brain GABA concentration. We found that variability in exertion (i.e., the coefficient of variation in their force exertion profile) was associated with increases in assessments of effort, making participants judge efforts as more costly. GABA levels in the sensorimotor cortex (SM1) moderated the influence of exertion variability on overassessments of effort. In individuals with higher sensorimotor GABA, exertion variability had a diminished influence on overassessments of effort. Essentially, sensorimotor GABA had a protective effect on the influence of exertion variability on inflations of effort assessment. Our findings provide a neurobiological account of how the brain's GABAergic system integrates features of physical exertion into judgments of effort, and how basic sensorimotor properties may influence higher-order judgments of effort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6121-6130
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number31
StatePublished - Aug 3 2022


  • GABA
  • effort
  • exertion
  • sensorimotor cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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