Mechanisms underlying motivational deficits in psychopathology: Similarities and differences in depression and schizophrenia

Deanna M. Barch, David Pagliaccio, Katherine Luking

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140 Scopus citations


Motivational and hedonic impairments are core aspects of a variety of types of psychopathology. These impairments cut across diagnostic categories and may be critical to understanding major aspects of the functional impairments accompanying psychopathology. Given the centrality of motivational and hedonic systems to psychopathology, the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative includes a “positive valence” systems domain that outlines a number of constructs that may be key to understanding the nature and mechanisms of motivational and hedonic impairments in psychopathology. These component constructs include initial responsiveness to reward, reward anticipation or expectancy, incentive or reinforcement learning, effort valuation, and action selection. Here, we review behavioral and neuroimaging studies providing evidence for impairments in these constructs in individuals with psychosis versus in individuals with depressive pathology. There are important differences in the nature of reward-related and hedonic deficits associated with psychosis versus depression that have major implications for our understanding of etiology and treatment development. In particular, the literature strongly suggests the presence of impairments in in-the-moment hedonics or “liking” in individuals with depressive pathology, particularly among those who experience anhedonia. Such deficits may propagate forward and contribute to impairments in other constructs that are dependent on hedonic responses, such as anticipation, learning, effort, and action selection. Such hedonic impairments could reflect alterations in dopamine and/or opioid signaling in the striatum related to depression or specifically to anhedonia in depressed populations. In contrast, the literature points to relatively intact in-the-moment hedonic processing in psychosis, but provides much evidence for impairments in other components involved in translating reward to action selection. Particularly, individuals with schizophrenia exhibit altered reward prediction and associated striatal and prefrontal activation, impaired reward learning, and impaired reward-modulated action selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-449
Number of pages39
JournalCurrent Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Depression
  • Motivation
  • Prefontal cortex
  • Reward
  • Schizophrenia
  • Striatum


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