Enhanced Bottom-Up and Reduced Top-Down fMRI Activity Is Related to Long-Lasting Nonreinforced Behavioral Change

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Mar 14;30(3):858-874. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz132.


Behavioral change studies and interventions focus on self-control and external reinforcements to influence preferences. Cue-approach training (CAT) has been shown to induce preference changes lasting months by merely associating items with neutral cues and speeded responses. We utilized this paradigm to study neural representation of preferences and their modification without external reinforcements. We scanned 36 participants with fMRI during a novel passive viewing task before, after and 30 days following CAT. We preregistered the predictions that activity in memory, top-down attention, and value-processing regions will underlie preference modification. While most theories associate preferences with prefrontal regions, we found that "bottom-up" perceptual mechanisms were associated with immediate change, whereas reduced "top-down" parietal activity was related to long-term change. Activity in value-related prefrontal regions was enhanced immediately after CAT for trained items and 1 month after for all items. Our findings suggest a novel neural mechanism of preference representation and modification. We suggest that nonreinforced change of preferences occurs initially in perceptual representation of items, putatively leading to long-term changes in "top-down" processes. These findings offer implementation of bottom-up instead of top-down targeted interventions for long-lasting behavioral change.

Keywords: behavioral change; decision making; fMRI; preferences; value.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't