Avolition: Lack of Motivation or Initiative

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Avolition means a severe lack of initiative or motivation. A psychological term used to describe the lack of interest or will to become engaged in goal-oriented behavior, avolition is found in schizophrenia.

In schizophrenia or schizophreniform disorder, when avolition is so severe as to prevent a person from doing ordinary things such as work, hobbies, reading, or taking care of oneself, it is considered a so-called negative symptom of the condition.

It also helps to understand what avolition is not: It is not basic procrastination or avoidance of various tasks (possibly unpleasant tasks) in people without mental disorders.

What Is Avolition in Schizophrenia?

People with avolition may want to accomplish certain tasks, but they're simply unable to garner the mental and physical energy necessary to do them. They literally lack the ability to get things done, even if they want to do them.

Examples of situations involving avolition include someone who is:

  • unable to start or complete paying bills (even when the bill-paying is urgent and necessary)
  • staring at an assignment without getting to work on it
  • just sitting for hours doing nothing

Someone who has avolition may want to participate in therapy for schizophrenia, but may literally be unable to do so. This obviously has major implications for the success of various schizophrenia treatments.

Avolition is not the same as anhedonia.

Anhedonia (another negative symptom of schizophrenia) is where activities bring no pleasure, even if they are activities that the person previously had enjoyed. Other negative symptoms of schizophrenia include asociality (a decrease in a person's motivation and interest to form relationships) and alogia (a decrease in speech).

Research Into Avolition

Research indicates that people who suffer avolition as a result of schizophrenia are able to experience emotions, but they can't actually translate these feelings into behaviors that lead to results. People with schizophrenia and poor working memories are most affected by this problem, one study showed.

Another study showed that people with schizophrenia who have a combination of avolition and apathy tend to have worse outcomes than people who have more symptoms of diminished expression and fewer symptoms of avolition and apathy. The authors of that study concluded that severe avolition and apathy in schizophrenia may indicate a more severe form of the condition.

Potential Avolition Treatments

Negative symptoms of schizophrenia are considered extremely difficult to treat. In fact, they're much more difficult to treat than the so-called positive symptoms of schizophrenia, which include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders and movement disorders.

However, avolition and other negative symptoms, such as anhedonia, asociality and alogia, may respond to medication and/or to social skills training, especially if these negative symptoms are caused by other medications taken for schizophrenia.

Medications used to treat avolition in schizophrenia include atypical antipsychotics such as Zyprexa (generic name: olanzapine) and Risperdal (generic name: risperidone). Atypical antipsychotics aren't terribly effective, though: They seem to reduce negative symptoms such as avolition by about 25%.

However, there aren't currently any approved treatments in the United States for avolition and other negative symptoms that don't respond to these medications, and researchers note there's a need for new therapies to address these symptoms in schizophrenia.


Foussias G et al. Negative symptoms in schizophrenia: avolition and Occam's razor. Schizophrenia Bulletin. 2010 Mar;36(2):359-69.

Lui SS et al. The nature of anhedonia and avolition in patients with first-episode schizophrenia. Psychological Medicine. 2016 Jan;46(2):437-47.

National Institute of Mental Health. Schizophrenia fact sheet. Accessed March 6, 2016.

Sarkar S et al. onceptualization and treatment of negative symptoms in schizophrenia. World Journal of Psychiatry. 2015 Dec 22;5(4):352-61.

Strauss GP et al. Deconstructing negative symptoms of schizophrenia: avolition-apathy and diminished expression clusters predict clinical presentation and functional outcome. Journal of Psychiatric Research. 2013 Jun;47(6):783-90.

Tandon R et al. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia: How to treat them most effectively. Current Psychiatry. Vol. 1, No. 9 / September 2002.

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