The neural correlates of subjective pleasantness

Neuroimage. 2012 May 15;61(1):289-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.02.065. Epub 2012 Mar 3.


Processing of subjective pleasantness is essential in daily life decision making, particularly in the context of cognitive and environmental factors. Pleasure is mediated by a neural network and this network has been suggested to be the biological basis of pleasure including a whole range of different modalities and domains of pleasantness. This quantitative meta-analysis of brain imaging data focuses on studies 1) based on correlations between self-reported judgements of pleasantness and brain regions and investigates whether 2) immediate (during scanning) versus subsequent judgements (after scanning) differ in brain activity. We investigated concurrence across 40 studies reporting brain regions correlated with self-reported judgements of subjective pleasantness (attractiveness, liking or beauty) by means of activation likelihood estimation (ALE). Positive correlates of subjective pleasantness were found in mOFC, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, left ventral striatum, pregenual cortex, right cerebellum, left thalamus and the mid cingulate cortex. Negative correlates were found in left precentral gyrus, right cerebellum and right inferior frontal gyrus. A comparison of studies with subjective pleasantness judgement during or after scanning revealed no significant differences in brain activation. We conclude that subjective pleasantness judgements are directly related to brain regions that have been described as part of the reward circuitry (mOFC, ventral striatum). The results suggest that the evaluation of likability or pleasure is an automatic process and that it is neither elicited nor enhanced by instructions to report the outcome of these judgements.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Neuroimaging
  • Pleasure / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reward
  • Thalamus / physiology