Goal or gold: overlapping reward processes in soccer players upon scoring and winning money

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 15;10(4):e0122798. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122798. eCollection 2015.


Social rewards are important incentives for human behavior. This is especially true in team sports such as the most popular one worldwide: soccer. We investigated reward processing upon scoring a soccer goal in a standard two-versus-one situation and in comparison to winning in a monetary incentive task. The results show a strong overlap in brain activity between the two conditions in established reward regions of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system, including the ventral striatum and ventromedial pre-frontal cortex. The three main components of reward-associated learning, i.e., reward probability (RP), reward reception (RR) and reward prediction errors (RPE) showed highly similar activation in both con-texts, with only the RR and RPE components displaying overlapping reward activity. Passing and shooting behavior did not correlate with individual egoism scores, but we observe a positive correlation be-tween egoism and activity in the left middle frontal gyrus upon scoring after a pass versus a direct shot. Our findings suggest that rewards in the context of soccer and monetary incentives are based on similar neural processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Decision Making
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Personality
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Radiography
  • Reward*
  • Soccer* / economics
  • Soccer* / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grants and funding

BW was supported by a Heisenberg Grant of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)), WE 4427(3—1), http://www.dfg.de/en/research_funding/programmes/individual/heisenberg/. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.