Hunger is the best spice: an fMRI study of the effects of attention, hunger and calorie content on food reward processing in the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex

Behav Brain Res. 2009 Mar 2;198(1):149-58. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2008.10.035. Epub 2008 Nov 6.


Research indicates that dysfunctional food reward processing may contribute to pathological eating behaviour. It is widely recognized that both the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) are essential parts of the brain's reward circuitry. The aims of this fMRI study were (1) to examine the effects of food deprivation and calorie content on reward processing in the amygdala and the OFC, and (2) to examine whether an explicit evaluation of foods is necessary for OFC, but not amygdalar activity. Addressing the first aim, healthy females were presented with high and low calorie food pictures while being either hungry or satiated. For the second aim, attention focus was manipulated by directing participants' attention either to the food or to a neutral aspect. This study shows that hunger interacts with the energy content of foods, modulating activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, medial OFC, insula, caudate putamen and fusiform gyrus. Results show that satiated healthy females show an increased reward processing in response to low calorie foods. Confirming our hypothesis, food deprivation increased activity following the presentation of high calorie foods, which may explain why treatments of obesity energy restricting diets often are unsuccessful. Interestingly, activity in both the amygdala and mOFC was only evident when participants explicitly evaluated foods. However, attention independent activity was found in the mPFC following the high calorie foods cues when participants where hungry. Current findings indicate that research on how attention modulates food reward processing might prove especially insightful in the study of the neural substrates of healthy and pathological eating behaviour.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cues
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Food Deprivation / physiology
  • Food*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Putamen / physiology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult