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Soutschek, Alexander ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8438-7721; Bagaïni, Alexandra; Hare, Todd A. ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0260-2772 and Tobler, Philippe N. (27. August 2021): Reconciling psychological and neuroscientific accounts of reduced motivation in aging. In: Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience [PDF, 797kB]

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Motivation is a hallmark of healthy aging, but the motivation to engage in effortful behavior diminishes with increasing age. Most neurobiological accounts of altered motivation in older adults assume that these deficits are caused by a gradual decline in brain tissue, while some psychological theories posit a switch from gain orientation to loss avoidance in motivational goals. Here, we contribute to reconcile the psychological and neural perspectives by providing evidence that the frontopolar cortex (FPC), a brain region involved in cost–benefit weighting, increasingly underpins effort avoidance rather than engagement with age. Using anodal transcranial direct current stimulation together with effort–reward trade-offs, we find that the FPC’s function in effort-based decisions remains focused on cost–benefit calculations but appears to switch from reward-seeking to cost avoidance with increasing age. This is further evidenced by the exploratory, independent analysis of structural brain changes, showing that the relationship between the density of the frontopolar neural tissue and the willingness to exert effort differs in young vs older adults. Our results inform aging-related models of decision-making by providing preliminary evidence that, in addition to cortical thinning, changes in goal orientation need to be considered in order to understand alterations in decision-making over the life span.

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