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Who Needs Motivation?

Attention procrastinators: help may be on the way. Likewise for managers stuck with an unmotivated workforce, or anyone who has to put up with that lazy coworker who makes your job that much more difficult.

In a study published this week by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers transformed four monkeys from slackers into workaholics by switching off a gene that caused them to adjust their level of effort depending on how soon they expected to receive a reward. In the test, each monkey was taught to press a lever that corresponded to changing colors on a computer screen, and at the end of the color cycle the monkey would receive a cup of juice. The monkeys soon picked up on the color pattern and would only press more urgently when they knew they were about to get the juice.

But when researchers injected a strand of DNA into each monkey’s rhinal cortex, suppressing a gene that acts as a receptor for the neurotransmitter dopamine, it blocked the monkeys’ ability to learn cues to predict their reward. The monkeys’ overall work ethic improved and they no longer withheld their best efforts for right before payday.

So perhaps we can look forward to a day when we as a society are free of the need for motivational speakers, self-help business books, and all those expensive toys we reward ourselves with to make those 70-hour workweeks more bearable. Maybe we can even dispense with that $4 cappuccino needed to kick-start the workday. Just bring your rhinal cortex injector to the office, stick it in your head, and get to work.

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