Food advertisements often promote choices that are driven by inferences about the hedonic pleasures of eating a particular food. Given the individual and public health consequences of obesity, it is critical to address unanswered questions about the specific neural systems underlying these hedonic inferences. For example, although regions such as the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) are frequently observed to respond more to pleasant food images than less hedonically pleasing stimuli, one important hedonic brain region in particular has largely remained conspicuously absent among human studies of hedonic response to food images. Based on rodent research demonstrating that activity in the ventral pallidum underlies the hedonic pleasures experienced upon eating food rewards, one might expect that activity in this important 'hedonic hotspot' might also track inferred food pleasantness. To date, however, no human studies have assessed this question. We thus asked human subjects to undergo fMRI and make item-by-item ratings of how pleasant it would be to eat particular visually perceived foods. Activity in the ventral pallidum was strongly modulated with pleasantness inferences. Additionally, activity within a region of the orbitofrontal cortex that tracks the pleasantness of tastes was also modulated with inferred pleasantness. Importantly, the reliability of these findings is demonstrated by their replication when we repeated the experiment at a new site with new subjects. These two experiments demonstrate that the ventral pallidum, in addition to the OFC, plays a central role in the moment-to-moment hedonic inferences that influence food-related decision-making.
- Orbitofrontal cortex
- Ventral pallidum