Theories of incentive motivation attempt to capture the way in which objects and events in the world can acquire high motivational value and drive behavior, even in the absence of a clear biological need. In addition, for an individual to select the most appropriate goal, the incentive values of competing desirable objects need to be defined and compared. The present study examined the neural substrates by which appetitive incentive value influences prospective goal selection, using positron emission tomographic neuroimaging in humans. Sated subjects were shown a series of restaurant menus that varied in incentive value, specifically tailored for each individual, and in half the trials, were asked to make a selection from the menu. The amygdala was activated by high-incentive menus regardless of whether a choice was required. Indeed, activity in this region varied as a function of individual subjective ratings of incentive value. In contrast, distinct regions of the orbitofrontal cortex were recruited both during incentive judgments and goal selection. Activity in the medial orbital cortex showed a greater response to high-incentive menus and when making a choice, with the latter activity also correlating with subjective ratings of difficulty. Lateral orbitofrontal activity was observed selectively when participants had to suppress responses to alternative desirable items to select their most preferred. Taken together, these data highlight the differential contribution of the amygdala and regions within the orbitofrontal cortex in a neural system underlying the selection of goals based on the prospective incentive value of stimuli, over and above homeostatic influences.
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