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Neuroimage. 2009 Feb 1;44(3):967-74. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.10.005. Epub 2008 Nov 1.

The brain tracks the energetic value in food images.

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Neuropsychology and Neurorehabilitation Service, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and University of Lausanne, Switzerland.


Do our brains implicitly track the energetic content of the foods we see? Using electrical neuroimaging of visual evoked potentials (VEPs) we show that the human brain can rapidly discern food's energetic value, vis à vis its fat content, solely from its visual presentation. Responses to images of high-energy and low-energy food differed over two distinct time periods. The first period, starting at approximately 165 ms post-stimulus onset, followed from modulations in VEP topography and by extension in the configuration of the underlying brain network. Statistical comparison of source estimations identified differences distributed across a wide network including both posterior occipital regions and temporo-parietal cortices typically associated with object processing, and also inferior frontal cortices typically associated with decision-making. During a successive processing stage (starting at approximately 300 ms), responses differed both topographically and in terms of strength, with source estimations differing predominantly within prefrontal cortical regions implicated in reward assessment and decision-making. These effects occur orthogonally to the task that is actually being performed and suggest that reward properties such as a food's energetic content are treated rapidly and in parallel by a distributed network of brain regions involved in object categorization, reward assessment, and decision-making.

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