Sparking Motivation in The Brain

That Psych Nerd

Exploring research on the neuron that is linked to motivation in the brain.



We all strive for motivation, from our exercise routine to even getting out of bed in the morning. Motivation is at the foot of everything that we do.

But sometimes, motivation just isn't there. When motivation fails, we have to push through our lack of desire to complete a specific task.

With mental illness, such as depression, there can be a lack of motivation. This can be caused by many factors, but the disorder strips away someone's motivation to get out of bed and simply take care of themselves.

Mental illness will tuck away what little energy we have and will not allow us to complete the things we need to do every day. Everything that was once a part of our daily routine is now far out of reach.

Motivation research

The human brain is complex and vast, with many different working parts. There are parts and specific functions of our brain that have yet to be fully understood.

There has been research conducted that looks explicitly at inducing motivation in someone. In this article, we will explore a research article that focuses on motivation.

In the brain lies the anterior insular cortex, which is essential in stimulating motivation. Researchers narrowed their focus onto the specific genes and neurons that correlate to motivation. There were neurons in the brain that activated a specific gene called Fezf2. With this information, researchers pressed forward to understand the exact effect that manipulation of Fezf2 has on mice. This specific area of the brain was found to activate during physical and cognitive tasks in mice.

So, how can cognitive abilities be tested in mice? Cognitive abilities are tasks that we have to complete using our various aspects of cognition--such as learning, attention, and much more. Much like how you can train your dog to ring a bell to go outside, you can also train mice—and other animals—for specific tasks.

The researchers trained the mice to lick the spout of a water bottle to receive a sugar reward. While the mice were licking the spout of the water bottle, researchers increased/decreased the neuron activity of Fezf2, which caused the mice to lick more slowly or quickly.

increase in Fezf2 neurons = increase in speed of task

decrease in Fezf2neurons = decrease in speed of task

Researchers discovered the same effect occurred among other various tasks, such as running on a wheel for a reward. But there was a vital feature of the Fezf2 neuron: the subject cannot become addicted to a specific task.

Professor Li stated, "We want to selectively increase the motivation of the person so that they can do the things that they need to do, but we don't want to create addictive drugs."

When the mice returned to a specific task, where Fezf2 was manipulated, there was not dependence or addictive quality behind it. This evidence supports the possibility of working on mental health by targeting motivation for those with depression.

What the results mean

Well, it doesn't mean too much for the present. But this research will add to a larger body of research looking at manipulating motivation in the human brain.

This research will push forward towards more research to discover a new potential treatment for mental health disorders. So this is a bright possibility for mental health treatment in the future.

Like any other research, one study cannot yield conclusive results. Suppose this study touts the possibility of neuron stimulation for motivation. In that case, that does not mean that we can start doing that on humans.

We have a long road to go before motivation can be directly targeted and tested in humans on this type of level. Mental health treatments, especially new ones, take a long time to create. There have to be trials and testing done to evaluate the efficacy or effectiveness of the treatment. Counselors and licensed mental health professionals can personalize their treatment options for patients, but the treatment has to be evidence-based.

Evidence-based treatment means there has to be research and proof that this treatment is helpful for patients. With that in mind, the doors for further research are wide open.



Motivation has the potential to be targeted by further research. Although the singular study shows promising results, more research studies will need to be conducted in order to better understand motivation manipulation in the brain.



Stay Connected with This Author: (check out my ‘Story Spotlight’ to read more of my work! Happy reading! 🌞)



This is an original post from the Mental Health on the Rise newsletter on Substack

Comments / 1

Published by

MS in Psychology | Mom of three cats and some house plants | #MentalHealthAdvocate #BeKind


More from That Psych Nerd

Comments / 0