A specific role for serotonin in overcoming effort cost.
Meyniel F., Goodwin GM., Deakin JW., Klinge C., MacFadyen C., Milligan H., Mullings E., Pessiglione M., Gaillard R.
Serotonin is implicated in many aspects of behavioral regulation. Theoretical attempts to unify the multiple roles assigned to serotonin proposed that it regulates the impact of costs, such as delay or punishment, on action selection. Here, we show that serotonin also regulates other types of action costs such as effort. We compared behavioral performance in 58 healthy humans treated during 8 weeks with either placebo or the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor escitalopram. The task involved trading handgrip force production against monetary benefits. Participants in the escitalopram group produced more effort and thereby achieved a higher payoff. Crucially, our computational analysis showed that this effect was underpinned by a specific reduction of effort cost, and not by any change in the weight of monetary incentives. This specific computational effect sheds new light on the physiological role of serotonin in behavioral regulation and on the clinical effect of drugs for depression. CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN75872983.