Health interest modulates brain reward responses to a perceived low-caloric beverage in females

Health Psychol. 2017 Jan;36(1):65-72. doi: 10.1037/hea0000411. Epub 2016 Aug 29.


Objective: Health labels are omnipresent in the supermarket. Such labels give rise to expectations about the product experience and may change flavor perception and perceived reward value. Consumers vary in their degree of health interest and may be differentially affected by such labels. However, how health interest influences neural reward responses to anticipation and receipt of heath-labeled foods is not known. This study assessed to what extent brain responses induced by anticipation and receipt of a beverage with different levels of perceived caloric content are associated with health interest.

Method: Twenty-five females completed an fMRI motivational taste-task in which they were presented with a low-caloric cue or a high-caloric cue and subsequently worked for sips of lemonade by moving a joystick. If they responded correctly and in time, they received the lemonade as a reward. Because of the 2 cue types, participants believed they were receiving 2 different lemonades, a high-caloric (HC-receipt) and a low-caloric (LC-receipt) one. Health interest was assessed with the General health interest subscale of the Health and Taste Attitude Scales.

Results: Health interest scores correlated significantly (r = .65) with LC-versus HC-receipt activation in the dorsal striatum (putamen), a region involved in encoding food reward.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that the reward value of a healthy product compared to its unhealthy counterpart increases with health interest. This provides more insight into the working mechanism of government campaigns that focus on increasing health interest to encourage the formation of healthy eating habits. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Beverages*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Caloric Restriction / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Motivation / drug effects
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reward*
  • Sweetening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Taste / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Sweetening Agents