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Neural, computational and psychological basis of motivation and decision-making in health and disease

Project Description

The Motivation and Social Neuroscience lab (MSN; is offering a competitively funded project examining the fundamental behavioural, computational and neural mechanisms of motivated behaviour and decision-making in humans.

The lab uses a combination of psychological and neuroscience techniques, to address questions such as: Why does the brain find things effortful? Why do we experience fatigue? and how does this impact on motivated decision-making? MSN is funded by a £1.25m, BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship, moving from Oxford University to University of Birmingham in summer 2020.

Being motivated is essential for a successful life. Yet, healthy adults differ considerably in their levels of motivation. Some people live physically and socially active lives, while other people can be sedentary, suffer from apathy, or become easily fatigued. Moreover, such traits can become severe and debilitating symptoms in psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease (PD). However, the mechanisms in the brain that underlie reduced motivation in healthy people and in disease are poorly understood.

It has been suggested that variability in motivation comes from how the brain weighs up the costs (such as effort) and benefits (rewards) of actions. Less motivated people calculate the costs of acting differently. Recently MSN lab has developed novel computational approaches for understanding the cognitive processes underlying how people trade-off the costs and benefits of actions, that can also quantify variability between people in levels of motivation. The aim of the proposed project would be to provide some of the first links between these computational processes, their underlying brain mechanisms in healthy people, and how they are disrupted in Parkinson’s Disease (PD).

PhD projects in the lab would use a combination of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Magnetoencephalography (MEG), psychopharmacology and computational methods flexibly based on the interests of the candidate. Using these approaches together will enable a better understanding of how different neural oscillations in specific anatomical systems underlie feelings such as fatigue and effort, how they are modulated by dopamine, and how this impacts on motivation in health and PD. The student would get training across a range of methods from psychology, neuroimaging, computational approaches, and neurology, allowing them to develop skills in the emerging field of ‘computational neurology’.

Funding Notes

This studentship is competition funded by the BBSRC MIBTP scheme:

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Please read the eligibility criteria: View Website (View Website)

Deadline: January 12th 2020

Number of Studentships available at UOB: 18

***IMPORTANT*** Prior to submitting a PhD application to the University of Birmingham, all interested candidates should first contact Dr.Apps (). Following this, only applicants with the most competitive CV will be requested to submit a PhD application using the University of Birmingham on-line application system. Candidates should submit a personal statement, CV, 2 references, and transcript of grades.


Apps MAJ, Rushworth MFS, Chang SWC (2016): The Anterior Cingulate Gyrus and Social Cognition: Tracking the Motivation of Others. Neuron 90:692–707.

Chen X, Voets S, Jenkinson N, Galea JM (2019): Dopamine-dependent loss aversion during effort-based decision-making. Journal of Neuroscience:1760–19.

Chong TT-J*, Apps M*, Giehl K, Sillence A, Grima LL, Husain M (2017): Neurocomputational mechanisms underlying subjective valuation of effort costs. PLoS Biology 15:e1002598. *equal contributors

Jensen O, Colgin LL (2007): Cross-frequency coupling between neuronal oscillations. Trends in Cognitive Science 11:267–269.

Le Heron C, Kolling N, Plant O, Kienast A, Janska R, Ang Y-S, Fallon S, Husain M, Apps MAJ (2019): Dopamine and motivational state drive dynamics of human decision making. bioRxiv:709857.

Lockwood PL, Hamonet M, Zhang SH, Ratnavel A, Salmony FU, Husain M, Apps MA (2017): Prosocial apathy for helping others when effort is required. Nature Human Behaviour 1:s41562-017–0131.

Manohar SG, Chong TT-J, Apps MAJ, Batla A, Stamelou M, Jarman PR, Bhatia KP, Husain M (2015): Reward Pays the Cost of Noise Reduction in Motor and Cognitive Control. Current Biology 25:1707–1716.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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