Stressed, depressed or lazy

A new study has identified three key brain regions that are involved in a person’s motivation to work hard. The research is thought to shed light on mental disorders that are characterised by a lack of ‘driving force’ including depression, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Additionally, the research could also help in understanding the relationship between stress and motivation.

25 participants were recruited for the study aged between 18 and 29. Participants completed a task in which their determination was established in relation to a monetary reward. Their brain activity was recorded while completing the task using positron emission tomography (PET) mapping technology.

Research has previously found that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a role in motivation-reward pathways in the brain. However, the current study reported that dopamine can have contradicting effects in different parts of the brain depending on whether an individual is willing to put in effort to obtain goals or not.

‘Slackers’ were found had higher levels of dopamine in the region of the brain thought to be involved in emotions and risk perception, while motivated individuals showed greater dopaminergic activation in the area of the brain known to be involved in motivation and rewards.

The research sheds flaws in current treatment for mental disorders that prescribe a ‘one pill fits all’ as it is becoming ever more apparent that there doesn’t appear to be a ‘normal level’ of dopamine throughout the brain which can be fixed by medication . Subsequently, therapies that allow for individual differences for the treatment of stress, ADHD and depression could be the most appropriate course of action.

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