The majority of reward learning neuroimaging studies have not focussed on the motivational aspects of behaviour, such as the inherent value placed on choice itself. The experience and affective value of personal control may have particular relevance for psychiatric disorders including depression.
In this study, we adapted an fMRI reward task that probed the value placed on exerting control over one’s decisions, termed ‘choice value’, in 122 healthy participants. We examined activation associated with choice value; personally-chosen versus passively-received rewards; and reinforcement learning metrics such as prediction error. Relationships were tested between measures of motivational orientation (categorised as Autonomy, Control and Impersonal), and subclinical depressive symptomatology.
Anticipating personal choice activated left insula, cingulate, right inferior frontal cortex and ventral striatum (P<0.05 FWE-corrected). Ventral striatal activations to choice were diminished in those with subclinical depressive symptomatology. Personally-chosen rewards were associated with greater activation of the insula/IFG, cingulate cortex, hippocampus, thalamus and substantia nigra compared to rewards that were passively received. In people who felt little control over their own behaviour (Impersonal orientation), prediction error signals in nucleus accumbens were stronger during passive trials.
Previous finding regarding personal choice have been verified, and taken forward through the use of both reinforcement learning models, and correlations with psychopathology. Personal choice has an impact on the extended reward network, potentially allowing these clinically-important areas to be addressed in ways more relevant to personality styles, self-esteem and symptoms such as motivational anhedonia.