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The Role of Motivation and Reward in Persuasion

An intrinsic variable that influences some cognition, including persuasion and perception of the world, is that of motivation. An audience that is motivated toward change is easier to persuade than one that is not motivated toward change. Motivation is linked to rewards.

When a person perceives a reward to exist with performing or doing well on a given task they are more motivated to pursue that task. Attaining the reward makes them feel good; so, they want to do that task. A student may perceive teacher or parental-approval to be a reward. In fact, one may perceive any of the following as rewards: earned points, good grades, improved chances of getting a job or raise, potential for advancement in a workplace, or any of many other short or long-term rewards. There are neurons that facilitate an understanding of reward linking with motivation. These are labeled as “reward neurons” or “dopamine neurons” (Arias-Carrion and Poppel, 2007; Hueske, 2011; and Schultz, Apicella, and Ljungberg, 1993). They exist in the mid-brain, where much synthesizing of stimuli occurs. Consequently, it is important to consider their inclusion with any neuro-scientific model of cognition.

Reward neurons release dopamine, a chemical that facilitates transmission of messages/impulses between synapses. Dopamine is also synthesized in various pharmaceutical drugs to address certain neural-blocking disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease (MacDonald et al., 2011), and non-pharmaceutical drugs associated with a “high” or “happy” feeling such as methamphetamine and cocaine enhance the effect of these neurons (Venton et al., 2006). While these neurons are not involved in processing modal stimuli, they do play a role in learning and persuasion.

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