Michael T. Treadway, Ph.D.



Society for Research in Psychopathology


Michael T. Treadway, Ph.D.

Emory University

"Locating the Ignition for Motivation"

The focus of Dr. Treadway’s program is to advance the understanding of the neural circuitry underlying motivation and effort-based decision-making, and how alterations in these circuits may give rise to the maladaptive choices commonly found among individuals experiencing symptoms of avolition, apathy, and anhedonia. His primary research activities emanating from this overarching goal have included three core areas: i) characterizing motivational and decision-making deficits in clinical populations, ii) elucidating the neurobiology of motivation, reinforcement learning and decision-making, and iii) testing the validity of a possible transdiagnostic ‘inflammatory sub-type’ for motivational impairments that may arise from abnormal brain-immune interactions.

Primary accomplishments to date include:

1) Development of Novel Laboratory Based Measures of Motivation and Effort-Based Decision-Making
Central to this research program has been the design and development of the Effort Expenditure for Rewards Task (EEfRT or “effort”), a laboratory-based, objective, translational measure of motivation for rewards as a novel approach to exploring the role of dopamine-linked motivational processes in psychiatric populations. This measure was explicitly patterned on animal measures of willingness to exert effort used in preclinical research, has been used in 100+ laboratories in over a half-dozen countries throughout the world, and has been translated into five languages. He has already conducted examinations of its sensitivity, validity and reliability in studies of healthy controls, as well as patients with depression and schizophrenia, and have collaborated on projects using this measure to explore motivational deficits in a wide-range of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

2) Identifying Dopaminergic Mechanisms of Human Effort-Based Decision-Making and Approach Behavior
Over several studies using a combination of pharmacological challenge paradigms and PET imaging techniques, he has demonstrated the role of dopamine-releasing agents in modulating human effort-based decision-making, as well as the association between endogenous variation in dopamine systems and individual differences in effort-expenditure preferences and impulsivity.

3) Discovery of Transdiagnostic Behavioral Markers of Altered Motivation in Psychopathology.
Using the Effort Expenditure for Rewards Task, he has identified common and distinct alterations in motivational and cost/benefit decision-making across several different disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, and autism. These studies have helped objectively characterize transdiagnostic dimensions of motivational deficits across various clinical populations.