Research Highlight:

Worth the 'EEfRT'? Role of Motivation in rewarding tasks

Original Research Article:
Treadway MT, Buckholtz JW, Schwartzman AN, Lambert WE, Zald DH (2009). Worth the 'EEfRT'? The effort expenditure for rewards task as an objective measure of motivation and anhedonia. PLoS One. 4(8):e6598.

Anhedonia is a subtype of the putative psychopathological enophenotypes in major depressive disorder (MDD), which characteristically represents an individual’s aberrant motivation and reward responsivity. In order to objectively tap into the measures of reward motivation and test trait anhedonia, the authors in this study developed the Effort-Expenditure for Rewards Task (EEfRT or “effort”), a novel behavioral paradigm to explore effort based decision making in humans. The EEfRT task is a multi-trial game in which participants are given the opportunity on each trial to choose between two different task difficulty levels (hard or easy). They are required to complete the task with a specific number of button responses within a constrained period of time in order to obtain a monetary reward. Along with the EEfRT task, study participants self-reported measures of mood and trait anhedonia. Across multiple analyses, Treadway and colleagues found a significant inverse relationship between the anhedonia trait and a willingness to expend effort for rewards. From these results, the authors postulate that anhedonia is specifically associated with decreased motivation for reward. Additionally, the findings in this study enabled the authors to provide initial validation for the EEfRT behavioral paradigm as a laboratory based measure of reward motivation and effort based decision making in humans.