BOLD responses in reward regions to hypothetical and imaginary monetary rewards

K.P. Miyapuram, P.N. Tobler, L. Gregorios-Pippas, W. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Monetary rewards are uniquely human. Because money is easy to quantify and present visually, it is the reward of choice for most fMRI studies, even though it cannot be handed over to participants inside the scanner. A typical fMRI study requires hundreds of trials and thus small amounts of monetary rewards per trial (e.g. 5p) if all trials are to be treated equally. However, small payoffs can have detrimental effects on performance due to their limited buying power. Hypothetical monetary rewards can overcome the limitations of smaller monetary rewards but it is less well known whether predictors of hypothetical rewards activate reward regions. In two experiments, visual stimuli were associated with hypothetical monetary rewards. In Experiment 1, we used stimuli predicting either visually presented or imagined hypothetical monetary rewards, together with non-rewarding control pictures. Activations to reward predictive stimuli occurred in reward regions, namely the medial orbitofrontal cortex and midbrain. In Experiment 2, we parametrically varied the amount of visually presented hypothetical monetary reward keeping constant the amount of actually received reward. Graded activation in midbrain was observed to stimuli predicting increasing hypothetical rewards. The results demonstrate the efficacy of using hypothetical monetary rewards in fMRI studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1692-1699
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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