Although goal pursuit is related to both functioning of the brain's reward circuits and psychological factors, the literatures surrounding these concepts have often been separate. Here, we use the psychological construct of regulatory focus to investigate individual differences in neural response to reward. Regulatory focus theory proposes two motivational orientations for personal goal pursuit: (1) promotion, associated with sensitivity to potential gain, and (2) prevention, associated with sensitivity to potential loss. The monetary incentive delay task was used to manipulate reward circuit function, along with instructional framing corresponding to promotion and prevention in a within-subject design. We observed that the more promotion oriented an individual was, the lower their ventral striatum response to gain cues. Follow-up analyses revealed that greater promotion orientation was associated with decreased ventral striatum response even to no-value cues, suggesting that promotion orientation may be associated with relatively hypoactive reward system function. The findings are also likely to represent an interaction between the cognitive and motivational characteristics of the promotion system with the task demands. Prevention orientation did not correlate with ventral striatum response to gain cues, supporting the discriminant validity of regulatory focus theory. The results highlight a dynamic association between individual differences in self-regulation and reward system function.
Keywords: Reward; fMRI; individual differences; monetary incentive delay; regulatory focus.