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Altered motivation of effortful decision-making for self and others in subthreshold depression.

BACKGROUND: Amotivation is a typical feature in major depressive disorders and refers to individuals exhibiting reduced willingness to exert effort for rewards. However, the motivation pattern when deciding whether to exert effort for self versus others in people with depression remains unclear.

METHODS: We conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging study and employed an adapted Effort-Expenditure for Rewards Task in subthreshold depressive (SD) participants (n = 33) and healthy controls (HC) (n = 32). This required participants to choose between a fixed low-effort/low-reward and a variable high-effort/high-reward option, and then immediately exert effort to obtain corresponding rewards for themselves or for unfamiliar people.

RESULTS: Compared with the HC group, the SD group showed blunted activity in the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex/dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, bilateral anterior insula (AI), and right putamen-left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex functional connectivity when choosing to exert effort for themselves. Additionally, the SD group exhibited increased willingness and greater activation in the bilateral AI when choosing to exert effort for others. Furthermore, these brain activations and functional connectivity were positively related to self-reported motivation.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings show altered motivation during effort-based decision-making in individuals with the mild depressive state, particularly with higher motivation for others. Thus, this suggests that motivational behaviors and prefrontal-striatal circuitry are altered in individuals with SD, which can be utilized to discover treatment targets and develop strategies to address mental illness caused by motivation disorders.

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