Brain scans may identify slackers

 

Slackers may have brains that are wired for under-achievement, a study suggests.

Scientists have identified neural pathways that appear to influence an individual's willingness to work hard to earn money.

Scans showed differences between "go-getters" and "slackers" in three specific areas of the brain.

People prepared to work hard for rewards had more of the nerve-signalling chemical dopamine in two brain regions called the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Both are known to play an important role in behaviour-changing reward sensations and motivation.

But "slackers", who were less willing to work hard for reward, had higher dopamine levels in the anterior insula. This is a brain region involved in emotion and risk perception.

Dopamine is a "neurotransmitter" that helps nerves "talk" to each other by sending chemical signals across connection points called synapses.

Psychologist Michael Treadway, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, US, who co-led the research, said: "Past studies in rats have shown that dopamine is crucial for reward motivation. But this study provides new information about how dopamine determines individual differences in the behaviour of human reward-seekers."

The findings are reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Neurosciences.

A total of 25 healthy volunteers took part in the research ranging in age from 18 to 29.

To determine their willingness to work for a monetary reward, participants were asked to perform a variety of button-pushing tasks.

An easy task earned one dollar (60p) while the reward for harder tasks ranged up to four dollars (£2.50).

After making their selection, volunteers were told they had a high, medium or low probability of getting a reward. Tasks lasted for about 30 seconds and participants had to perform them repeatedly for about 20 minutes.

Positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans, which monitor radioactive "tracer" molecules in the brain, were used to measure dopamine activity.

For many, the term "slacker" is personified by Jeff Bridges' character "the Dude" in the 1998 film The Big Lebowski.

The new research suggests that Lebowski's desire to remain unemployed and spend much of his time bowling could partly be down to brain chemistry.

Study leader Professor David Zald, also from Vanderbilt University, said: "At this point, we don't have any data proving that this 20-minute snippet of behaviour corresponds to an individual's long-term achievement, but if it does measure a trait variable such as an individual's willingness to expend effort to obtain long-term goals, it will be extremely valuable."

The scientists say they were surprised by the role of dopamine in the anterior insula. It suggests that more dopamine in this brain region is associated with a reduced desire to work, even when it means earning less money. In the past, dopamine has always been linked to reward-driven behaviour.

The fact that dopamine has opposite effects in different brain regions complicates the picture for treatments of conditions such as attention-deficit disorder, depression and schizophrenia.

Prof Zald's team is engaged in a larger project aimed at identifying objective measures for depression and other de-motivating psychological disorders.

"Right now our diagnoses for these disorders is often fuzzy and based on subjective self-report of symptoms," he said.

"Imagine how valuable it would be if we had an objective test that could tell whether a patient was suffering from a deficit or abnormality in an underlying neural system. With objective measures we could treat the underlying conditions instead of the symptoms."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot