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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.

Original publication

DOI

10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02399.x

Type

Journal article

Journal

Psychol Sci

Publication Date

08/2009

Volume

20

Pages

955 - 962

Keywords

Achievement, Adult, Arousal, Attention, Brain Mapping, Corpus Striatum, Female, Frontal Lobe, Gyrus Cinguli, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Individuality, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Maze Learning, Mesencephalon, Motion Perception, Motivation, Orientation, Oxygen, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Prefrontal Cortex, Psychomotor Performance, Reward, Video Games, Young Adult