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Sensorimotor Cortex GABA Moderates the Relationship between Physical Exertion and Assessments of Effort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Eric J. Hu, Agostina Casamento-Moran, Joseph K. Galaro, Kimberly L. Chan, Richard A.E. Edden, Nicolaas A.J. Puts, Vikram S. Chib

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6121-6130
Number of pages10
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number31
Published3 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was supported by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, National Institutes of Health Award R01HD097619, and National Institutes of Mental Health Awards R56MH113627 and R01MH119086 to V.S.C.; and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering Awards P41EB015909, R01EB016089, and R01EB023963 to R.A.E.A. The authors declare no competing financial interests. Correspondence should be addressed to Vikram S. Chib at Copyright © 2022 the authors Publisher Copyright: © 2022 Society for Neuroscience. All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Experiences of physical exertion guide our assessments of effort. While these assessments critically influence our decisions to engage in daily activities, little is known about how they are generated. We had female and male human participants exert grip force and assess how effortful these exertions felt; and used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure their brain GABA concentration. We found that variability in exertion (i.e., the coefficient of variation in their force exertion profile) was associated with increases in assessments of effort, making participants judge efforts as more costly. GABA levels in the sensorimotor cortex (SM1) moderated the influence of exertion variability on overassessments of effort. In individuals with higher sensorimotor GABA, exertion variability had a diminished influence on overassessments of effort. Essentially, sensorimotor GABA had a protective effect on the influence of exertion variability on inflations of effort assessment. Our findings provide a neurobiological account of how the brain's GABAergic system integrates features of physical exertion into judgments of effort, and how basic sensorimotor properties may influence higher-order judgments of effort.

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