Expecting a reward or punishment can affect brain activity in areas responsible for processing different senses, including sight or touch, reveals a new study.
For example, research shows that these brain regions light up on brain scans when humans are expecting a treat. However, researchers know less about what happens when the reward is actually received-or an expected reward is denied.
To get a better grasp on how the brain behaves when people who are expecting a reward actually receive it, or conversely, are denied it, Tina Weis of Carl-von-Ossietzky University and her colleagues monitored the auditory cortex-the part of the brain that processes and interprets sounds- while volunteers solved a task in which they had a chance of winning 50 Euro cents with each round, signalled by a specific sound.
The study authors found that when the volunteers were expecting and finally received a reward, then their auditory cortex was activated. Similarly, there was an increase in brain activity in this area when the subjects weren't expecting a reward and didn't get one. There was no additional activity when they were expecting a reward and didn't get one.
These findings add to accumulating evidence that the auditory cortex performs a role beyond just processing sound. Rather, this area of the brain appears to be activated during other activities that require learning and thought, such as confirming expectations of receiving a reward.
The study is published in Journal of Neurophysiology.