Subjective illusion of control modulates striatal reward anticipation in adolescence

Neuroimage. 2015 Aug 15;117:250-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.05.024. Epub 2015 May 16.


The perception of control over the environment constitutes a fundamental biological adaptive mechanism, especially during development. Previous studies comparing an active choice condition with a passive no-choice condition showed that the neural basis of this mechanism is associated with increased activity within the striatum and the prefrontal cortex. In the current study, we aimed to investigate whether subjective belief of control in an uncertain gambling situation induces elevated activation in a cortico-striatal network. We investigated 79 adolescents (age range: 13-16years) during reward anticipation with a slot machine task using functional magnetic resonance imaging. We assessed post-experimentally whether the participants experienced a subjective illusion of control on winning or losing in this task that was objectively not given. Nineteen adolescents experienced an illusion of control during slot machine gambling. This illusion of control group showed an increased neural activity during reward anticipation within a cortico-striatal network including ventral striatum (VS) as well as right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) relative to the group reporting no illusion of control. The rIFG activity was inversely associated with impulsivity in the no illusion of control group. The subjective belief about control led to an elevated ventral striatal activity, which is known to be involved in the processing of reward. This finding strengthens the notion that subjectively perceived control, not necessarily the objective presence of control, affects striatal reward-related processing.

Keywords: Adolescence; Illusion of control; Reward anticipation; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / physiology*
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Female
  • Gambling
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Ventral Striatum / physiology*