PerspectiveNeuroscience

Is it worth the effort?

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Science  20 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6484, pp. 1300-1301
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb0265

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Summary

Before undertaking any task, humans implicitly determine whether reaching the goal is worth the effort. Weighing costs and benefits is a fundamental brain function that often occurs unconsciously, allowing for the adaptive use of resources to attain goals. The neurotransmitter dopamine is a key player in this process (1). On page 1362 of this issue, Westbrook et al. (2) clarify the role of dopamine by showing that increasing an otherwise weak dopamine signal shifts attention toward the rewarding outcome, resulting in greater readiness to perform cognitive effort to reach the goal. As such, increasing dopamine appears to be beneficial specifically for those individuals with relatively lower dopamine function. This finding may explain the efficacy of dopamine-enhancing medications such as Ritalin (methylphenidate), which is prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and has been used without a prescription by students as a “study enhancing drug.”

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