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Neuroimage. 2012 Oct 15;63(1):415-22. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.06.070. Epub 2012 Jul 6.

Nucleus accumbens response to food cues predicts subsequent snack consumption in women and increased body mass index in those with reduced self-control.

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1
School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK. Natalia.Lawrence@exeter.ac.uk

Abstract

Individuals have difficulty controlling their food consumption, which is due in part to the ubiquity of tempting food cues in the environment. Individual differences in the propensity to attribute incentive (motivational) salience to and act on these cues may explain why some individuals eat more than others. Using fMRI in healthy women, we found that food cue related activity in the nucleus accumbens, a key brain region for food motivation and reward, was related to subsequent snack food consumption. However, both nucleus accumbens activation and snack food consumption were unrelated to self-reported hunger, or explicit wanting and liking for the snack. In contrast, food cue reactivity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was associated with subjective hunger/appetite, but not with consumption. Whilst the food cue reactivity in the nucleus accumbens that predicted snack consumption was not directly related to body mass index (BMI), it was associated with increased BMI in individuals reporting low self-control. Our findings reveal a neural substrate underpinning automatic environmental influences on consumption in humans and demonstrate how self-control interacts with this response to predict BMI. Our data provide support for theoretical models that advocate a 'dual hit' of increased incentive salience attribution to food cues and poor self-control in determining vulnerability to overeating and overweight.

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