The anticipation and outcome phases of reward and loss processing: A neuroimaging meta-analysis of the monetary incentive delay task

Hum Brain Mapp. 2018 Aug;39(8):3398-3418. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24184. Epub 2018 Apr 25.


The processing of rewards and losses are crucial to everyday functioning. Considerable interest has been attached to investigating the anticipation and outcome phases of reward and loss processing, but results to date have been inconsistent. It is unclear if anticipation and outcome of a reward or loss recruit similar or distinct brain regions. In particular, while the striatum has widely been found to be active when anticipating a reward, whether it activates in response to the anticipation of losses as well remains ambiguous. Furthermore, concerning the orbitofrontal/ventromedial prefrontal regions, activation is often observed during reward receipt. However, it is unclear if this area is active during reward anticipation as well. We ran an Activation Likelihood Estimation meta-analysis of 50 fMRI studies, which used the Monetary Incentive Delay Task (MIDT), to identify which brain regions are implicated in the anticipation of rewards, anticipation of losses, and the receipt of reward. Anticipating rewards and losses recruits overlapping areas including the striatum, insula, amygdala and thalamus, suggesting that a generalised neural system initiates motivational processes independent of valence. The orbitofrontal/ventromedial prefrontal regions were recruited only during the reward outcome, likely representing the value of the reward received. Our findings help to clarify the neural substrates of the different phases of reward and loss processing, and advance neurobiological models of these processes.

Keywords: anticipation; loss; monetary incentive delay task; outcome; reward.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reward*