Motivation for goal-directed behaviour largely depends on the expected value of the anticipated reward. The aim of the present study was to examine how different levels of reward value are coded in the brain for two common forms of human reward: money and social approval. To account for gender differences 16 male and 16 female participants performed an incentive delay task expecting to win either money or positive social feedback. fMRI recording during the anticipation phase revealed proportional activation of neural structures constituting the human reward system for increasing levels of reward, independent of incentive type. However, in men activation in the prospect of monetary rewards encompassed a wide network of mesolimbic brain regions compared to only limited activation for social rewards. In contrast, in women, anticipation of either incentive type activated identical brain regions. Our findings represent an important step towards a better understanding of motivated behaviour by taking into account individual differences in reward valuation.
Anticipation of monetary and social reward differently activates mesolimbic brain structures in men and women. Spreckelmeyer KN, Krach S, Kohls G, Rademacher L, Irmak A, Konrad K, Kircher T, Gründer G. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2009 Jun;4(2):158-65. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsn051. Epub 2009 Jan 27.