The first taste is always with the eyes: a meta-analysis on the neural correlates of processing visual food cues

L N van der Laan, D T D de Ridder, M A Viergever, P A M Smeets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

453 Citations (Scopus)


Food selection is primarily guided by the visual system. Multiple functional neuro-imaging studies have examined the brain responses to visual food stimuli. However, the results of these studies are heterogeneous and there still is uncertainty about the core brain regions involved in the neural processing of viewing food pictures. The aims of the present study were to determine the concurrence in the brain regions activated in response to viewing pictures of food and to assess the modulating effects of hunger state and the food's energy content. We performed three Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) meta-analyses on data from healthy normal weight subjects in which we examined: 1) the contrast between viewing food and nonfood pictures (17 studies, 189 foci), 2) the modulation by hunger state (five studies, 48 foci) and 3) the modulation by energy content (seven studies, 86 foci). The most concurrent brain regions activated in response to viewing food pictures, both in terms of ALE values and the number of contributing experiments, were the bilateral posterior fusiform gyrus, the left lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the left middle insula. Hunger modulated the response to food pictures in the right amygdala and left lateral OFC, and energy content modulated the response in the hypothalamus/ventral striatum. Overall, the concurrence between studies was moderate: at best 41% of the experiments contributed to the clusters for the contrast between food and nonfood. Therefore, future research should further elucidate the separate effects of methodological and physiological factors on between-study variations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-303
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Appetite/physiology
  • Attention/physiology
  • Brain/physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Hunger/physiology
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation/methods
  • Visual Perception/physiology


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