Differences between liking and wanting signals in the human brain and relations with cognitive dietary restraint and body mass index

Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Aug;94(2):392-403. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.012161. Epub 2011 Jun 8.


Background: Eating behavior is determined, to a significant extent, by the rewarding value of food (ie, liking and wanting).

Objective: We determined brain regions involved in liking and wanting and related brain signaling to body mass index (BMI; in kg/m(2)) and dietary restraint.

Design: Fifteen normal-weight female subjects [mean ± SEM age: 21.5 ± 0.4 y; BMI: 22.2 ± 0.2] completed a food-choice paradigm by using visually displayed food items during functional magnetic resonance imaging scans. Two scans were made as follows: one scan was made in a fasted condition, and one scan was made in a satiated condition. The paradigm discriminated between liking and wanting, and subjects were offered items rated highly for wanting immediately after each scan. Imaging contrasts for high and low liking and wanting were made, and data for regions of interest were extracted. Activation related to liking and wanting, respectively, was determined. Outcomes were correlated to cognitive dietary restraint and BMI.

Results: Dietary restraint predicted liking task-related signaling (TRS) in the amygdala, striatum, thalamus, and cingulate cortex (r = -0.5 ± 0.03, P < 0.00001). In the nucleus accumbens, the premeal liking and wanting TRS and premeal to postmeal liking TRS changes correlated positively with dietary restraint [bilateral average r = 0.6 ± 0.02, P < 0.04 (Bonferroni corrected)]. BMI and hunger predicted wanting TRS in the hypothalamus and striatum (P < 0.05). Postmeal liking TRS in the striatum, anterior insula, and cingulate cortex and wanting TRS in the striatum predicted the energy intake (liking: r = -0.3 ± 0.05, P < 0.0001; wanting: r = -0.3 ± 0.03, P < 0.00001).

Conclusions: Successful dietary restraint was supported by liking TRS from premeal to postmeal in the nucleus accumbens. Reward-related signaling was inversely related to BMI and energy intake, indicating reward deficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Energy Intake
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Food Deprivation*
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Reward
  • Satiety Response
  • Young Adult