Neural dissociation of food- and money-related reward processing using an abstract incentive delay task

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2015 Aug;10(8):1113-20. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu162. Epub 2014 Dec 30.


Food is an innate reward stimulus related to energy homeostasis and survival, whereas money is considered a more general reward stimulus that gains a rewarding value through learning experiences. Although the underlying neural processing for both modalities of reward has been investigated independently from one another, a more detailed investigation of neural similarities and/or differences between food and monetary reward is still missing. Here, we investigated the neural processing of food compared with monetary-related rewards in 27 healthy, normal-weight women using functional magnetic resonance imaging. We developed a task distinguishing between the anticipation and the receipt of either abstract food or monetary reward. Both tasks activated the ventral striatum during the expectation of a reward. Compared with money, greater food-related activations were observed in prefrontal, parietal and central midline structures during the anticipation and lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC) during the receipt of food reward. Furthermore, during the receipt of food reward, brain activation in the secondary taste cortex was positively related to the body mass index. These results indicate that food-dependent activations encompass to a greater extent brain regions involved in self-control and self-reflection during the anticipation and phylogenetically older parts of the lOFC during the receipt of reward.

Keywords: BMI; eating disorders; neural processing of food rewards; orbitofrontal cortex; ventral striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Brain Mapping
  • Delay Discounting*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motivation*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward*
  • Self Concept
  • Ventral Striatum / physiology
  • Young Adult