Retest reliability of reward-related BOLD signals

Neuroimage. 2010 Apr 15;50(3):1168-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.036. Epub 2010 Jan 18.


Reward processing is a central component of learning and decision making. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has contributed essentially to our understanding of reward processing in humans. The strength of reward-related brain responses might prove as a valuable marker for, or correlate of, individual preferences or personality traits. An essential prerequisite for this is a sufficient reliability of individual measures of reward-related brain signals. We therefore determined test-retest reliabilities of BOLD responses to reward prediction, reward receipt and reward prediction errors in the ventral striatum and the orbitofrontal cortex in 25 subjects undergoing three different simple reward paradigms (retest interval 7-13 days). Although on a group level the paradigms consistently led to significant activations of the relevant brain areas in two sessions, across-subject retest reliabilities were only poor to fair (with intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) of -0.15 to 0.44). ICCs for motor activations were considerably higher (ICCs 0.32 to 0.73). Our results reveal the methodological difficulties behind across-subject correlations in fMRI research on reward processing. These results demonstrate the need for studies that address methods to optimize the retest reliability of fMRI.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / blood supply
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / blood supply
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Reward*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen