Dissociation of BOLD responses to reward prediction errors and reward receipt by a model comparison

Eur J Neurosci. 2012 Aug;36(3):2376-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2012.08125.x. Epub 2012 May 17.


The representation of reward anticipation and reward prediction errors is the basis for reward-associated learning. The representation of whether or not a reward occurred (reward receipt) is important for decision making. Recent studies suggest that, while reward anticipation and reward prediction errors are encoded in the midbrain and the ventral striatum, reward receipts are encoded in the medial orbitofrontal cortex. In order to substantiate this functional specialization we analyzed data from an fMRI study in which 59 subjects completed two simple monetary reward paradigms. Because reward receipts and reward prediction errors were correlated, a statistical model comparison was applied separating the effects of the two. Reward prediction error fitted BOLD responses significantly better than reward receipt in the midbrain and the ventral striatum. Conversely, reward receipt fitted BOLD responses better in the orbitofrontal cortex. Activation related to reward anticipation was found in the orbitofrontal cortex. The results confirm a functional specialization of behaviorally important aspects of reward processing within the mesolimbic dopaminergic system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reward*