Impulsivity Influences Choices Between Food and Money

Summary: Impulsivity affects decision making between primary rewards like food and secondary rewards like money. The team found that individuals are more likely to choose immediate rather than delayed food rewards, while they prefer to wait for a larger amount of money.

Using MRI, the study revealed distinct brain activation patterns based on reward type, suggesting different underlying mechanisms in the brain for food processing versus financial decisions. These results highlight the role of impulsivity in reward-based decision making.


  1. Reward Preferences: People tend to choose immediate food rewards due to their perishability, while they choose to wait for larger monetary amounts due to the stability of the value of money.
  2. Brain activation differences: Decision-making involving money activates brain regions associated with action monitoring, while food choices engage areas related to social decision-making.
  3. Implications for Addictive Behaviors: The study links impulsivity to a tendency toward addictive behaviors, suggesting that understanding these decision-making processes could inform new therapeutic strategies.

Source: RUB

Neuroscience researchers from Bochum confirm different strategies when choosing between primary and secondary rewards. The lever is impulsivity.

People make decisions every day: what to wear in the morning or what to watch on TV in the evening. But how do decisions differ when it comes to essential food and money? A neuroscientific research team from Ruhr University Bochum investigated this question.

This suggests that decisions about food and money follow similar processing patterns in the human brain. Credit: Neuroscience News

Led by Professor Burkhard Pleger from the Berufsgenossenschaftliches Universitätsklinikum Bergmannsheil, the team examined the mechanisms underlying human decision-making when it comes to so-called primary rewards such as food, as opposed to secondary rewards such as food. ‘money. The scientists also analyzed in which areas of the brain the different mechanisms can be located.

The results of the study were published in the journal in Euro.

Behavioral models and brain responses at the center of research

Do people decide differently when it comes to fries and strawberry cake than when it comes to money? This is exactly what scientists at Ruhr University Bochum studied.

They presented 28 test subjects, depending on their preferences, with fries or schnitzel, strawberry cake or chocolate bars as well as money and let the test subjects choose whether they wanted to receive a certain amount of the item immediately or a larger quantity later. on time.

In the experiment, the suggested waiting times were two days, two weeks, one, three and six months as well as one year. The longer the test subjects decided to wait, the greater the reward in terms of money or food.

Throughout the study, participants were placed in an MRI scanner that recorded brain activity.

The stability of the value of money and the perishability of food influence the choice

“We were able to show that food decisions are made more impulsively. In other words, immediately available foods are chosen more often than a larger quantity of the same food available later,” explains first author Marius Markmann.

“It’s different with money. Here, people prefer to wait for the biggest amount of money. This is because the value of money is stable for longer, while the value of food is linked to the perishability of food.

The observed differences were also reflected in brain activation during decision-making.

“When choosing an amount of money, the human brain appears to engage the regions responsible for monitoring actions. On the other hand, with food, brain regions that are important for decisions in the social environment become active,” explains Pleger, senior researcher at the Department of Neuroscience Research at Ruhr University.

“However, the differences in brain networks were smaller than expected. This suggests that decisions about food and money follow similar processing patterns in the human brain.

Decision-making processes linked to addictive behaviors

Numerous studies have already shown that the human brain reacts differently to so-called primary rewards like food and secondary rewards like money. How this is reflected in human behavior has been the subject of less research to date.

“We found the lever in impulsivity: primary rewards such as food lead to more impulsive decisions,” explains Markmann, a doctoral student in neurological research at the Universitätsklinikum Bergmannsheil.

“Our result is consistent with the findings of other studies. Impulsive people showed lower self-control, higher calorie intake, and higher meal frequency. They were also more likely to be addicted to the Internet, social media, smartphones, gaming and betting.

In this context, the Bochum researchers also see the next interesting research question regarding human decision-making.

“In people with addictive behavior, self-control over primary rewards is a crucial problem,” says Pleger.

“If we could identify which specific decision-making processes play a role in addictive behaviors, this could lead to new behavioral therapeutic interventions.”

About this news from research in impulsivity and neuroscience

Author: Anke Maes
Source: RUB
Contact: Anke Maes – RUB
Picture: Image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Free access.
“Differences in Discounting Behavior and Brain Responses for Food and Money Reward” by M. Markman et al. in Euro


Differences in discounting behavior and brain responses for food and money reward

Most research in neuroeconomics seeks to understand how value influences decision making. The influence of reward type is less well understood.

We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the delay in discounting of primary (i.e., food) and secondary (i.e., money) rewards in 28 healthy, normal-weight participants (mean age = 26.77; 18 women).

To decipher the differences in discounting behavior between reward types, we compared the extent to which different option-based statistical models (exponential and hyperbolic discounting) and attribute-heuristic choice models (intertemporal choice heuristic, theory of dual reasoning and the implicit framework, trade-off model) captured reward-specific discounting behavior.

Contrary to our assumption of different strategies for different rewards, we observed comparable discounting behavior for money and food (i.e., exponential discounting). Upper k food price reduction values ​​suggest that individuals decide more impulsively if confronted with food.

fMRI revealed that monetary discounting was associated with increased activity in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, involved in executive control; the right dorsal striatum, associated with reward processing; and the left hippocampus, involved in memory encoding/retrieval.

In contrast, food reduction was associated with higher activity in the left temporoparietal junction, suggesting social reinforcement of food decisions.

Although our results do not support our hypothesis that discounting strategies are different for different reward types, they are consistent with the idea that reward types have a significant influence on impulsivity, with primary rewards leading to more impulsive choices.

News Source :
Gn Health

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