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Unconscious motivation in humans is often inferred but rarely demonstrated empirically. We imaged motivational processes, implemented in a paradigm that varied the amount and reportability of monetary rewards for which subjects exerted physical effort. We show that, even when subjects cannot report how much money is at stake, they nevertheless deploy more force for higher amounts. Such a motivational effect is underpinned by engagement of a specific basal forebrain region. Our findings thus reveal this region as a key node in brain circuitry that enables expected rewards to energize behavior, without the need for the subjects`awareness.