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Open Access Open Badges Research

Apathy symptoms modulate motivational decision making on the Iowa gambling task

Progress Njomboro1*, Shoumitro Deb2 and Glyn W Humphreys3

Author Affiliations

1 Psychology Department, University of Cape Town, Main Road, Rondebosch, Cape Town 7701, South Africa

2 School of Psychology, Division of Neurosciences, Burlington Danes Building, Imperial College, The Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Road, London, W12 0NN, UK

3 Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University, Oxford, UK

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Behavioral and Brain Functions 2012, 8:63  doi:10.1186/1744-9081-8-63

Published: 27 December 2012



The present study represents an initial attempt to assess the role of apathy in motivated decision making on the Iowa Gambling Task. Clinical descriptions of patients with apathy highlight deficits in the cognitive, emotional and behavioural aspects of goal directed activity, yet standard neurocognitive tests of these measures fail to demonstrate reliable sensitivity to the disorder. Available research suggests the Iowa Gambling Task is a robust test of complex emotional socio-executive processes involved in motivational decision making, which can analogue real-world goal-directed behaviour.


We ask whether performance on the Iowa Gambling Task can distinguish brain damaged patients with apathy symptoms from 1) brain damaged patients without apathy and 2) neurologically intact controls. Overall, 22 healthy adults and 29 brain damaged patients took part in this study.


Brain damaged patients with apathy were distinctively impaired on the Iowa Gambling Task compared to both non-apathetic brain damaged patients and neurologically intact healthy controls. On the other hand, standard measures for the cognitive control of behaviour failed to show this sensitivity.


Our results demonstrated that the Iowa Gambling Task is sensitive to the presence of apathy symptoms. We discuss these findings in terms of neurocognition deficits in apathy and the related implications for rehabilitation and clinical intervention.

Apathy; Motivational decision making; Iowa gambling task