Using a new molecular genetic technique, scientists have turned procrastinating primates into workaholics by temporarily suppressing a gene in a brain circuit involved in reward learning. Without the gene, the monkeys lost their sense of balance between reward and the work required to get it, say researchers at the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
"The gene makes a receptor for a key brain messenger chemical, dopamine," explained Barry Richmond, M.D., NIMH Laboratory of Neuropsychology. "The gene knockdown triggered a remarkable transformation in the simian work ethic. Like many of us, monkeys normally slack off initially in working toward a distant goal. They work more efficiently – make fewer errors – as they get closer to being rewarded. But without the dopamine receptor, they consistently stayed on-task and mde few errors, because they could no longer learn to use visual cues to predict how their work was going to get them a reward."
A while ago, I read Acedia and Me, a personal and historical overview of the collapse of motivation. I got a strong impression that there was something about ideas of time and effort involved, but I couldn't put a finger on it. The monkey study supplies a large clue.
Link thanks to Rico Saarelma at Less Wrong.
NonOBSF: A Deepness in the Sky.