Is Apathy in Your Genes?
Brain’s biology could actually be responsible for how apathetic a person is, according to new research published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
Scientists at Oxford University in the U.K. gathered 40 healthy volunteers and had them complete a questionnaire that the researchers used to evaluate their levels of motivation.
Then, the study participants played a game in which they were made offers with different levels of reward and the physical effort involved in winning the reward. The researchers said that, as predicted, the participants usually accepted the offers with high rewards and low effort, while the low rewards requiring high effort were not accepted as often.
Next, the participants played the game in an MRI machine while the researchers analyzed their brains.
Although the “apathetic” people were less likely to accept the offers requiring a lot of effort, one part of their brains showed more activity than in the motivated participants: the pre-motor cortex. This brain area is involved in taking actions and activates just before other brain areas that control movement do.
The brain scans revealed that in more apathetic people the pre-motor cortex was more active when they chose to take an offer than it was in the motivated participants.
This was the opposite of what the researchers had expected. They thought there would be less activity in apathetic people since they were less likely to accept the choices requiring effort, but this was not the case.
The scans suggested that the connections in the front part of the brains of apathetic people are less effective. So their brains have to make more of an effort to take action.
The researchers said this is the first evidence of a biological basis for apathy, but did note that their findings may not necessarily account for apathy in everyone.
But the results do provide more insight about the brain processes involved in a person’s level of motivation.