Shared Neural Mechanisms for the Evaluation of Intense Sensory Stimulation and Economic Reward, Dependent on Stimulation-Seeking Behavior.
Norbury A., Valton V., Rees G., Roiser JP., Husain M.
UNLABELLED: Why are some people strongly motivated by intense sensory experiences? Here we investigated how people encode the value of an intense sensory experience compared with economic reward, and how this varies according to stimulation-seeking preference. Specifically, we used a novel behavioral task in combination with computational modeling to derive the value individuals assigned to the opportunity to experience an intense tactile stimulus (mild electric shock). We then examined functional imaging data recorded during task performance to see how the opportunity to experience the sensory stimulus was encoded in stimulation-seekers versus stimulation-avoiders. We found that for individuals who positively sought out this kind of sensory stimulation, there was common encoding of anticipated economic and sensory rewards in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Conversely, there was robust encoding of the modeled probability of receiving such stimulation in the insula only in stimulation-avoidant individuals. Finally, we found preliminary evidence that sensory prediction error signals may be positively signed for stimulation-seekers, but negatively signed for stimulation-avoiders, in the posterior cingulate cortex. These findings may help explain why high intensity sensory experiences are appetitive for some individuals, but not for others, and may have relevance for the increased vulnerability for some psychopathologies, but perhaps increased resilience for others, in high sensation-seeking individuals. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: People vary in their preference for intense sensory experiences. Here, we investigated how different individuals evaluate the prospect of an unusual sensory experience (electric shock), compared with the opportunity to gain a more traditional reward (money). We found that in a subset of individuals who sought out such unusual sensory stimulation, anticipation of the sensory outcome was encoded in the same way as that of monetary gain, in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Further understanding of stimulation-seeking behavior may shed light on the etiology of psychopathologies such as addiction, for which high or low sensation-seeking personality has been identified as a risk factor.