Negative emotion reduces the discriminability of reward outcomes in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2023 Nov 20;18(1):nsad067. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsad067.


Reward and emotion are tightly intertwined, so there is a growing interest in mapping their interactions. However, our knowledge of these interactions in the human brain, especially during the consummatory phase of reward is limited. To address this critical gap, we conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging study to investigate the effects of negative emotion on reward outcome processing. We employed a novel design where emotional valence (negative or neutral) indicated the type of outcome (reward or no-reward) in a choice task. We focused our functional magnetic resonance imaging analysis on the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), ventral striatum and amygdala, which were frequently implicated in reward outcome processing. In these regions of interest, we performed multi-voxel pattern analysis to specifically probe how negative emotion modulates reward outcome processing. In vmPFC, using decoding analysis, we found evidence consistent with the reduced discriminability of multi-variate activity patterns of reward vs no-reward outcomes when signaled by a negative relative to a neutral image, suggesting an emotional modulation of reward processing along the plausible common value/valence dimension. These findings advance our limited understanding of the basic brain mechanisms underlying the influence of negative emotion on consummatory reward processing, with potential implications for mental disorders, particularly anxiety and depression.

Keywords: MVPA; emotion; reward; valence; ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Anxiety
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex* / diagnostic imaging
  • Reward