Everyday life, as well as psychiatric illness, is replete with examples where appetitive and aversive stimuli hijack the will, leading to maladaptive behavior. Yet the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are not well understood. Here we investigate how motivational cues influence action tendencies in healthy individuals with a novel paradigm. Behaviorally, we observed that an appetitive cue biased go behavior (making a response), whereas an aversive cue biased no-go behavior (withholding a response). We hypothesized that the origin of this behavioral go/no-go bias occurs at the motor system level. To test this, we used single-pulse TMS as a motor system probe (rather than a disruptive tool) to index motivational biasing. We found that the appetitive cue biased the participants to go more by relatively increasing motor system excitability, and that the aversive cue biased participants to no-go more by relatively decreasing motor system excitability. These results show, first, that maladaptive behaviors arise from motivational cues quickly spilling over into the motor system and biasing behavior even before action selection and, second, that this occurs in opposing directions for appetitive and aversive cues.

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