Human behaviour is generally guided by the anticipation of potential outcomes that are considered to be rewarding. Reward processing can thus be dissected into a phase of reward anticipation and a phase of reward consumption. A number of brain structures have been suggested to be involved in reward processing. However, it is unclear whether anticipation and consumption are mediated by the same or different neural networks. We examined the neural basis of these processes using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in an incentive delay task offering either money or social approval. In both conditions participants (N=28) were given a cue indicating potential reward. In order to receive reward a target button had to be pushed within a certain time window (adapted for individual reaction time). Cues triggering either monetary or social reward anticipation were presented sessionwise. Imaging was performed on a 1.5-Tesla Philips scanner in an event-related design. Anticipation of both reward types activated brain structures constituting the brain reward system including the ventral striatum. In contrast to the task independent activity in the anticipation phase, reward consumption evoked different patterns of activation for money and social approval, respectively. While social stimuli were mainly associated with amygdala activation, the thalamus was more strongly activated by the presentation of monetary rewards. Our results identify dissociable neural networks for the anticipation and consumption of reward. The findings implicate that the neural mechanisms underlying reward consumption are more modality-specific than those for reward anticipation, and that they are mediated by subjective reward value.
Dissociation of neural networks for anticipation and consumption of monetary and social rewards. Rademacher L, Krach S, Kohls G, Irmak A, Gründer G, Spreckelmeyer KN. Neuroimage. 2010 Feb 15;49(4):3276-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.10.089. Epub 2009 Nov 12.