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Neuroimage. 2019 Jan 1;184:130-139. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.09.017. Epub 2018 Sep 8.

Neural correlates of the energetic value of food during visual processing and response inhibition.

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Area of Neuroscience, SISSA, Trieste, Italy; Cognitive Neuroscience, Institute of Neuroscience & Medicine (INM-3), Research Centre Juelich, Germany. Electronic address:
School of Psychology, Australian Catholic University, NSW, Australia; Area of Neuroscience, SISSA, Trieste, Italy.
Area of Neuroscience, SISSA, Trieste, Italy; ANVUR, Rome, Italy.


Previous research showed that human brain regions involved in reward and cognitive control are responsive to visually presented food stimuli, in particular high-energy foods. However, it is still to be determined whether the preference towards high-energy foods depends on their higher energy density (kcal/gram), or is based on the difference in energy content of the food items (total amount of kcal). Here we report the results of an fMRI study in which normal-weight healthy participants processed food images during a one-back task or were required to inhibit their response towards food stimuli during a Go/No-Go task. High-energy density (HD) and low-energy density (LD) foods were matched for energy content displayed. Food-related kitchen objects (OBJ) were used as control stimuli. The lateral occipital complex and the orbitofrontal cortex showed consistent higher activity in response to HD than LD foods, both during visual processing and response inhibition. This result suggests that images of HD foods, even when the amount of food shown is not associated with a higher energy content, elicit preferential visual processing - possibly involving attentional processes - and trigger a response from the reward system. We conclude that the human brain is able to distinguish food energy densities of food items during both active visual processing and response inhibition.


Energy density; Food; Reward; Visual processing; fMRI

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