Neural and computational mechanisms of momentary fatigue and persistence in effort-based choice

Tanja Müller, Miriam C Klein-Flügge, Sanjay Manohar, Masud Husain, Matthew Apps

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From a gym workout, to deciding whether to persevere at work, many activities require us to persist in deciding that rewards are ‘worth the effort’ even as we become fatigued. However, studies examining effort-based decisions typically assume that the willingness to work is static. Here, we use computational modelling on two effort-based tasks, one behavioural and one during fMRI. We show that two hidden states of fatigue fluctuate on a moment-to-moment basis on different timescales but both reduce the willingness to exert effort for reward. The value of one state increases after effort but is ‘recoverable’ by rests, whereas a second ‘unrecoverable’ state gradually increases with work. The BOLD response in separate medial and lateral frontal sub-regions covaried with these states when making effort-based decisions, while a distinct fronto-striatal system integrated fatigue with value. These results provide a computational framework for understanding the brain mechanisms of persistence and momentary fatigue.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4593
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
T.M. was funded by doctoral scholarships from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) as well as by a Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG) Foundation Grant. M.H. was funded by Principal Fellowships from the Wellcome Trust (098282/Z/12/Z, 206330/Z/17/Z). M. A.J.A. was funded by a Biosciences and Biotechnology Research Council (BBSRC) Future Leader Fellowship (BB/M013596/1) and a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (BB/ R010668/1). We would like to thank Dr. Campbell Le Heron for his help in programming the fMRI study, Dr. Yuen Siang Ang for assistance with image preprocessing code and Mindaugas Jurgelis for helpful discussions on collecting and modelling fatigue ratings. The Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging is supported by core funding from the Wellcome Trust (203139/Z/16/Z).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Choice Behavior/physiology
  • Decision Making/physiology
  • Fatigue/diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Reward
  • Ventral Striatum
  • Young Adult


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