Affective traits link to reliable neural markers of incentive anticipation

Neuroimage. 2014 Jan 1;84:279-89. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.08.055. Epub 2013 Aug 31.


While theorists have speculated that different affective traits are linked to reliable brain activity during anticipation of gains and losses, few have directly tested this prediction. We examined these associations in a community sample of healthy human adults (n=52) as they played a Monetary Incentive Delay task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). Factor analysis of personality measures revealed that subjects independently varied in trait Positive Arousal and trait Negative Arousal. In a subsample (n=14) retested over 2.5years later, left nucleus accumbens (NAcc) activity during anticipation of large gains (+$5.00) and right anterior insula activity during anticipation of large losses (-$5.00) showed significant test-retest reliability (intraclass correlations>0.50, p's<0.01). In the full sample (n=52), trait Positive Arousal correlated with individual differences in left NAcc activity during anticipation of large gains, while trait Negative Arousal correlated with individual differences in right anterior insula activity during anticipation of large losses. Associations of affective traits with neural activity were not attributable to the influence of other potential confounds (including sex, age, wealth, and motion). Together, these results demonstrate selective links between distinct affective traits and reliably-elicited activity in neural circuits associated with anticipation of gain versus loss. The findings thus reveal neural markers for affective dimensions of healthy personality, and potentially for related psychiatric symptoms.

Keywords: Accumbens; Affect; FMRI; Insula; Punishment; Reward.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Aged
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult