Age-Related Differences in Motivational Integration and Cognitive Control

Debbie M. Yee, Sarah Adams, Asad Beck, Todd S. Braver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Motivational incentives play an influential role in value-based decision-making and cognitive control. A compelling hypothesis in the literature suggests that the motivational value of diverse incentives are integrated in the brain into a common currency value signal that influences decision-making and behavior. To investigate whether motivational integration processes change during healthy aging, we tested older (N = 44) and younger (N = 54) adults in an innovative incentive integration task paradigm that establishes dissociable and additive effects of liquid (e.g., juice, neutral, saltwater) and monetary incentives on cognitive task performance. The results reveal that motivational incentives improve cognitive task performance in both older and younger adults, providing novel evidence demonstrating that age-related cognitive control deficits can be ameliorated with sufficient incentive motivation. Additional analyses revealed clear age-related differences in motivational integration. Younger adult task performance was modulated by both monetary and liquid incentives, whereas monetary reward effects were more gradual in older adults and more strongly impacted by trial-by-trial performance feedback. A surprising discovery was that older adults shifted attention from liquid valence toward monetary reward throughout task performance, but younger adults shifted attention from monetary reward toward integrating both monetary reward and liquid valence by the end of the task, suggesting differential strategic utilization of incentives. These data suggest that older adults may have impairments in incentive integration and employ different motivational strategies to improve cognitive task performance. The findings suggest potential candidate neural mechanisms that may serve as the locus of age-related change, providing targets for future cognitive neuroscience investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)692-714
Number of pages23
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019


  • Aging
  • Cognitive control
  • Decision-making
  • Motivation
  • Reward


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