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Journal Article

Choking on the money: Reward-based performance decrements are associated with midbrain activity

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Mobbs, D., Hassabis, D., Seymour, B., Marchant, J. L., Weiskopf, N., Dolan, R. J., et al. (2009). Choking on the money: Reward-based performance decrements are associated with midbrain activity. Psychological Science, 20(8), 955-962. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02399.x.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0027-B312-3
A pernicious paradox in human motivation is the occasional reduced performance associated with tasks and situations that involve larger-than-average rewards. Three broad explanations that might account for such performance decrements are attentional competition (distraction theories), inhibition by conscious processes (explicit-monitoring theories), and excessive drive and arousal (overmotivation theories). Here, we report incentive-dependent performance decrements in humans in a reward-pursuit task; subjects were less successful in capturing a more valuable reward in a computerized maze. Concurrent functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that increased activity in ventral midbrain, a brain area associated with incentive motivation and basic reward responding, correlated with both reduced number of captures and increased number of near-misses associated with imminent high rewards. These data cast light on the neurobiological basis of choking under pressure and are consistent with overmotivation accounts.