Reward Motivation Enhances Task Coding in Frontoparietal Cortex

Joset A. Etzel, Michael W. Cole, Jeffrey M. Zacks, Kendrick N. Kay, Todd S. Braver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Reward motivation often enhances task performance, but the neural mechanisms underlying such cognitive enhancement remain unclear. Here, we used a multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) approach to test the hypothesis that motivation-related enhancement of cognitive control results from improved encoding and representation of task set information. Participants underwent two fMRI sessions of cued task switching, the first under baseline conditions, and the second with randomly intermixed reward incentive and no-incentive trials. Information about the upcoming task could be successfully decoded from cue-related activation patterns in a set of frontoparietal regions typically associated with task control. More critically, MVPA classifiers trained on the baseline session had significantly higher decoding accuracy on incentive than non-incentive trials, with decoding improvement mediating reward-related enhancement of behavioral performance. These results strongly support the hypothesis that reward motivation enhances cognitive control, by improving the discriminability of task-relevant information coded and maintained in frontoparietal brain regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1647-1659
Number of pages13
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grant number R37MH066078) to T.B. and 1R01AG031150 to J.M.Z.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail:


  • MVPA
  • cognitive control
  • fMRI
  • motivation
  • prefrontal


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