Human striatal responses to monetary reward depend on saliency.
While the striatum has been implicated in reward processing, an alternative view contends that the striatum processes salient events in general. Using fMRI, we investigated human striatal responses to monetary reward while modulating the saliency surrounding its receipt. Money was maximally salient when its receipt depended on a correct response (active) and minimally salient when its receipt was completely independent of the task (passive). The saliency manipulation was confirmed by skin conductance responses and subjective ratings of the stimuli. Significant caudate and nucleus accumbens activations occurred following the active compared to passive money. Such activations were attributed to saliency rather than the motor requirement associated with the active money because striatal activations were not observed when the money was replaced by inconsequential, nonrewarding stimuli. The present study provides evidence that the striatum's role in reward processing is dependent on the saliency associated with reward, rather than value or hedonic feelings.