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The trade-off between reward and effort is at the heart of most behavioral theories, from ecology to economics. Compared to reward, however, effort remains poorly understood, both at the behavioral and neurophysiological levels. This is important because unwillingness to overcome effort to gain reward is a common feature of many neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders. A recent surge in interest in the neurobiological basis of effort has led to seemingly conflicting results regarding the role of dopamine. We argue here that, upon closer examination, there is actually striking consensus across studies: dopamine primarily codes for future reward but is less sensitive to anticipated effort cost. This strong association between dopamine and the incentive effects of rewards places dopamine in a key position to promote reward-directed action.

Original publication




Journal article


Trends Neurosci

Publication Date





79 - 91


cost–benefit decision making, electrophysiology, midbrain, motivation, striatum, voltammetry, Animals, Decision Making, Dopamine, Humans, Mesencephalon, Motivation, Physical Exertion, Reward