Impulsiveness linked to activity in brain's reward center

December 20, 2006

A new imaging study shows that our brains react with varying sensitivity to reward and suggests that people most susceptible to impulse -- those who need to buy it, eat it, or have it, now -- show the greatest activity in a reward center of the brain. The study appears in the December 20 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

In their study of 45 subjects, Ahmad Hariri, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh and collaborators at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the University of Chicago showed that activity in the ventral striatum, a core component of the brain's reward circuitry, correlated with individuals' impulsiveness.

"These data are exciting because they begin to unravel individual differences in brain organization underlying differences in complex psychological constructs, such as 'impulsivity,' which may contribute to the propensity to addiction," says Terry E. Robinson, PhD, of the University of Michigan biopsychology program.

The Hariri team tested the subjects on two computer-based tasks. First, participants indicated their preferences in a series of immediate-versus-delayed, hypothetical monetary rewards. They chose between receiving an amount from 10 cents to $105 that day and receiving $100 at one of seven points up to five years in the future. "Switch points"—the value at which they were equally likely to choose getting money today as getting $100 at a future point in time—were calculated for each person.

Seven months later, subjects were told they could win money if they correctly guessed numbers on a series of cards while scientists used blood oxygenation-level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity in response to correct and incorrect guesses. These images reflected participants' reactions to positive and negative "reward" feedback. After matching images to the subjects' switch points on the index of impulsiveness, the researchers looked for patterns.

Individuals indicating the strongest preference for immediate over delayed rewards showed the most ventral striatum activity associated with positive and negative feedback for a monetary reward.

"Our findings suggest that the ventral striatum plays a key role in striking a balance between gratification and delay, impulsive action and prudent choice, that can have far-reaching implications for our current and future well-being," says Hariri.

The team aims to examine the role of specific factors that drive the sensitivity of the ventral striatum next. One target of future research will be genes that regulate levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine and how they vary among individuals, Hariri says.

Source: Society for Neuroscience

Explore further: Study shows how 'love hormone' oxytocin spurs sociability

Related Stories

Study shows how 'love hormone' oxytocin spurs sociability

September 28, 2017
Why is it so much fun to hang out with our friends? Why are some people so sociable while others are loners or seemingly outright allergic to interactions with others?

Why bad sleep doesn't always lead to depression

September 18, 2017
Poor sleep is both a risk factor, and a common symptom, of depression. But not everyone who tosses and turns at night becomes depressed.

Givers really are happier than takers

August 15, 2017
(HealthDay)—Generosity really is its own reward, with the brain seemingly hardwired for happiness in response to giving, new research suggests.

Brain activity predicts promiscuity and problem drinking

July 1, 2015
A pair of brain-imaging studies suggest researchers may be able to predict how likely young adults are to develop problem drinking or engage in risky sexual behavior in response to stress.

Early childhood stress affects brain's response to rewards

October 19, 2015
A Duke University-led study has pinpointed how early childhood stress affects the adult brain's response to rewards. Their findings suggest a possible pathway by which childhood stress may increase risk of depression and ...

Beauty and the brain: Electrical stimulation of the brain makes you perceive faces as more attractive

June 12, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and—as researchers have now shown—in the brain as well.

Recommended for you

Engineered protein treatment found to reduce obesity in mice, rats and primates

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. report that an engineered version of a protein naturally found in the body caused test mice, rats and cynomolgus monkeys to lose weight. In their ...

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

October 19, 2017
Researchers at the University of Tübingen have become the first to keep human brain tissue alive outside the body for several weeks. The researchers, headed by Dr. Niklas Schwarz, Dr. Henner Koch and Dr. Thomas Wuttke at ...

Cancer drug found to offer promising results in treating sepsis in test mice

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A combined team of researchers from China and the U.S. has found that a drug commonly used to treat lung cancer in humans offers a degree of protection against sepsis in test mice. In their paper published ...

Tracing cell death pathway points to drug targets for brain damage, kidney injury, asthma

October 19, 2017
University of Pittsburgh scientists are unlocking the complexities of a recently discovered cell death process that plays a key role in health and disease, and new findings link their discovery to asthma, kidney injury and ...

Study reveals key molecular link in major cell growth pathway

October 19, 2017
A team of scientists led by Whitehead Institute has uncovered a surprising molecular link that connects how cells regulate growth with how they sense and make available the nutrients required for growth. Their work, which ...

Inflammation trains the skin to heal faster

October 18, 2017
Scars may fade, but the skin remembers. New research from The Rockefeller University reveals that wounds or other harmful, inflammation-provoking experiences impart long-lasting memories to stem cells residing in the skin, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.