(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

New research from Vanderbilt University suggests that how hardworking a person is might depend on which area of the brain the neurotransmitter dopamine is concentrated.

“Past studies in rats have shown that dopamine is crucial for reward motivation,” said researcher Michael Treadway, “but this study provides new information about how dopamine determines individual differences in the behavior of human reward-seekers.”

The researchers mapped the brains of 25 participants using positron emission tomography, also known as a PET scan, while they were asked to perform a button-pushing task that resulted in them earning money as a way to determine their willingness to work for a monetary reward.

The results revealed that those identified as “go-getters” and willing to work hard for monetary rewards had a higher release of dopamine in the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex areas of the brain, which are said to play an important role in reward and motivation. Those identified as “slackers,” however, saw a higher concentration in the anterior insula, an area of the brain associated with emotion and risk perception. This particular finding suggests that more dopamine in the insula is associated with a reduced desire to work, even if it results in earning less money.

“At this point, we don’t have any data proving that this 20-minute snippet of behavior corresponds to an individual’s long-term achievement,” said researcher David Zald, “but if it does measure a trait variable such as an individual’s willingness to expend effort to obtain long-term goals, it will be extremely valuable.”

Source: Vanderbilt University

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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