Neural correlates of reward in autism

Br J Psychiatry. 2008 Jan;192(1):19-24. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.107.036921.


Background: Lack of social interaction, which is characteristically seen in people with autistic-spectrum disorder, may be caused by malfunctioning of the frontostriatal reward systems. However, no reported in vivo brain imaging studies have investigated reward mechanisms in autistic-spectrum disorder.

Aims: To investigate functional brain activation during reward feedback in people with autistic-spectrum disorder and control individuals.

Method: We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural substrates of monetary reward in individuals with autistic-spectrum disorder and matched controls.

Results: When rewarded, individuals with autism compared with control individuals showed significantly greater brain activation in the left anterior cingulate gyrus. In addition, activation of this region was negatively correlated with social interaction as measured by the Autism Diagnostic Interview.

Conclusions: In people with autistic-spectrum disorder, achieving reward is associated with significant differences in the activation of areas known to be responsible for attention and arousal, and this may partially underpin some deficits in social behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Random Allocation
  • Reward*