Study suggests reason for your apathy at work

Researchers find the apathetic have less efficient brain structure than the motivated

You can tell your boss it is biology not attitude that causes you to be indifferent. Photograph: Thinkstock

You can tell your boss it is biology not attitude that causes you to be indifferent. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

If you lack enthusiasm, feel indifferent or apathetic please do not stop reading. Researchers believe they know why you couldn’t be bothered.

It is all down to the way your brain is wired, according to scientists at Oxford University.

The brains of those with a high degree of apathy work differently than the hateful go-getter types who rank high on motivation and assertiveness.

You can tell your boss it is biology not attitude that causes you to be indifferent.

There are clear medical reasons why individuals might be profoundly apathetic. This group can include people who have had a stroke or those with Alzheimer’s disease, said Masud Husain, Oxford professor of neurology and cognitive neuroscience.

Prof Husain chose instead to study apathy in people without underlying conditions. “By studying healthy people, we wanted to find out whether any differences in their brains might shed light on apathy,” he said.

Personal motivation

The volunteers first completed a questionnaire that scored them on personal motivation.

They then played a game where they were made offers, each with a different level of reward and physical effort needed to win the reward.

Needless to say participants – motivated or not – preferred high rewards from low effort compared with low rewards for high effort.

This was no surprise to the research team. They then asked the volunteers to play the game in a brain scanner so they could see what was going on inside the brain. These results did offer a few surprises.

Apathetic players showed significantly more brain activity in the premotor cortex, a key area involved in taking actions, than in the eager beavers of the group.

The researchers expected to see less activity in the indifferent subjects because they were less likely to choose effortful offers.

The team put this down to the highly apathetic having a less efficient brain structure. It is more of an effort for apathetic people to turn decisions into actions, Prof Husain said.

“Using our brain scanning techniques we found that connections in the front part of the brains of apathetic people are less effective.”

So the brain wiring of those who couldn’t be bothered might be that bit looser than in the office heros. They are not lazy, it is just their biology.