Nature’s clocks and human mood: The circadian system modulates reward motivation. Academic Article uri icon


  • Existing literature on reward motivation pays scant attention to the fact that reward potential of the environment varies dramatically with the light/dark cycle. Evolution, by contrast, treats this fact very seriously: In all species, the circadian system is adapted to optimize the daily rhythm of environmental engagement. We used 3 standard protocols to demonstrate that human reward motivation, as measured in the dynamics of positive affect (PA), is modulated endogenously by the circadian clock. Under naturalistic conditions, 13.0% of PA variance was explained by a 24-hr sinusoid. In a constant routine protocol, 25.0% of PA variance was explained by the unmasked circadian rhythm in core body temperature (CBT). A forced desynchrony study showed PA to align with CBT in exhibiting circadian periodicity independent of a 28-hr sleep/wake cycle. It is concluded that the circadian system modulates reward activation, and implications for models of normal and abnormal mood are discussed.


  • Murray, Greg
  • Nicholas, Christian L
  • Kleiman, Jan
  • Dwyer, Robyn
  • Carrington, Melinda J
  • Allen, Nicholas B
  • Trinder, John

publication date

  • October 1, 2009