To trace the source of motivation, let’s begin in the ain where neurotransmitters spark chemical messages to keep us alert and on task. One specific neurotransmitter that plays a role in motivation is dopamine.
For motivation specifically, it matters which pathway dopamine takes. The mesolimbic pathway, which originates in the middle of the ain and anches to various places like the cereal cortex, is the most important reward pathway in the ain.
But stopping there would be missing the complete story. Pleasure is just the tip of the dopamine iceberg. Dopamine’s impact on the body is felt in many different areas, including motivation, memory, behavior and cognition, attention, sleep, mood, learning, and oh yeah, pleasurable reward. You hear about dopamine and pleasure because of its sticky associations with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The media refers to dopamine in scare stories about addiction (some for good reason, some not). Pleasure and all its dangerous slippery slopes is a sexier topic than attention, cognition, and motivation.