Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
In everyday life, people use self-control to withhold actions. This ability is particularly important when the consequences of action withholding have an impact on the individual's well-being. Despite its importance, it is unclear as to how the neural nodes implicated in action withholding contribute to this real-world type of self-control. By modifying an action withholding paradigm, the go/no-go task, we examined how the brain exerts self-control during a scenario in which the implications of withholding an action are meaningful and motivationally significant. A successfully withheld response contributed to long-term monetary rewards, whereas failure to withhold a response incurred an immediate monetary punishment. Compared with neutral action withholding, participants significantly improved their performance when these contingencies were applied. Crucially, although the right IFG and pre-SMA were found to promote overall action withholding, the enhancement in behavioral performance relative to a neutral condition was only reflected by a physiological change in a region encompassing the right inferior frontal junction and precentral gyrus. We speculate that the ability to flexibly modulate attention to goal-relevant stimuli is crucial to enhanced, motivationally driven action withholding and that this ability is subserved by the right inferior frontal junction. These findings suggest that control-modulating factors, rather than action withholding processes per se, can be critical to improving motivationally significant action withholding outcomes.