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Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2013 Sep;13(3):437-51. doi: 10.3758/s13415-013-0156-8.

Candy and the brain: neural response to candy gains and losses.

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Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA,


Incentive processing is a critical component of a host of cognitive processes, including attention, motivation, and learning. Neuroimaging studies have clarified the neural systems underlying processing of primary and secondary rewards in adults. However, current reward paradigms have hindered comparisons across these reward types as well as between age groups. To address methodological issues regarding the timing of incentive delivery (during scan vs. postscan) and the age-appropriateness of the incentive type, we utilized fMRI and a modified version of a card-guessing game (CGG), in which candy pieces delivered postscan served as the reinforcer, to investigate neural responses to incentives. Healthy young adults 22-26 years of age won and lost large and small amounts of candy on the basis of their ability to guess the number on a mystery card. BOLD activity was compared following candy gain (large/small), loss (large/small), and neutral feedback. During candy gains, adults recruited regions typically involved in response to monetary and other rewards, such as the caudate, putamen, and orbitofrontal cortex. During losses, they displayed greater deactivation in the hippocampus than in response to neutral and gain feedback. Additionally, individual-difference analyses suggested a negative relationship between reward sensitivity (assessed by the Behavioral Inhibition/Behavioral Activation Scales) and the difference between high- and low-magnitude losses in the caudate and lateral orbitofrontal cortex. Also within the striatum, greater punishment sensitivity was positively related to the difference in activity following high as compared to low gains. Overall, these results show strong overlap with those from previous monetary versions of the CGG and provide a baseline for future work with developmental populations.

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