How task demands shape brain responses to visual food cues

Hum Brain Mapp. 2017 Jun;38(6):2897-2912. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23560. Epub 2017 Mar 13.


Several previous imaging studies have aimed at identifying the neural basis of visual food cue processing in humans. However, there is little consistency of the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) results across studies. Here, we tested the hypothesis that this variability across studies might - at least in part - be caused by the different tasks employed. In particular, we assessed directly the influence of task set on brain responses to food stimuli with fMRI using two tasks (colour vs. edibility judgement, between-subjects design). When participants judged colour, the left insula, the left inferior parietal lobule, occipital areas, the left orbitofrontal cortex and other frontal areas expressed enhanced fMRI responses to food relative to non-food pictures. However, when judging edibility, enhanced fMRI responses to food pictures were observed in the superior and middle frontal gyrus and in medial frontal areas including the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This pattern of results indicates that task sets can significantly alter the neural underpinnings of food cue processing. We propose that judging low-level visual stimulus characteristics - such as colour - triggers stimulus-related representations in the visual and even in gustatory cortex (insula), whereas discriminating abstract stimulus categories activates higher order representations in both the anterior cingulate and prefrontal cortex. Hum Brain Mapp 38:2897-2912, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: fMRI; food; human; neuroimaging; task demands; visual.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Judgment
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult