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Apathy and impulsivity are expressed in a wide range of neuropsychiatric disorders, and, to a less severe extent, in healthy people too. Although traditionally considered to be opposite extremes of a single motivational spectrum, recent epidemiological questionnaire-based data suggest that both traits can in fact co-exist within the same individual. Here, we sought to investigate the relationship between these constructs in healthy people within a controlled task environment that examines the ability to make a decision under temporal uncertainty and measures the vigour of the response. Sixty participants performed a new version of the Traffic Light Task and completed self-report questionnaire measures of apathy and impulsivity. The task required individuals to make rapid decision-making for time-sensitive reward by squeezing a hand-held dynamometer as quickly as possible after a predictable event occurred (a traffic light turning green). Although apathy and impulsivity were positively correlated in questionnaire assessments, the two traits were associated with distinct behavioural signatures on the task. Impulsivity was expressed as an inflexible tendency to generate rapid anticipatory responses, regardless of cost-benefit information. Apathy, on the other hand, was associated with a blunted effect of reward on response vigour. These findings reveal how apathy and impulsivity are related to distinct dimensions of goal-directed behaviour, explaining how these traits might co-exist in the same individuals.

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Journal article


Sci Rep

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Humans, Decision Making, Apathy, Impulsive Behavior, Reward, Motivation