Neurofeedback of visual food cue reactivity: a potential avenue to alter incentive sensitization and craving.




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Peer reviewed



FMRI-based neurofeedback transforms functional brain activation in real-time into sensory stimuli that participants can use to self-regulate brain responses, which can aid the modification of mental states and behavior. Emerging evidence supports the clinical utility of neurofeedback-guided up-regulation of hypoactive networks. In contrast, down-regulation of hyperactive neural circuits appears more difficult to achieve. There are conditions though, in which down-regulation would be clinically useful, including dysfunctional motivational states elicited by salient reward cues, such as food or drug craving. In this proof-of-concept study, 10 healthy females (mean age = 21.40 years, mean BMI = 23.53) who had fasted for 4 h underwent a novel 'motivational neurofeedback' training in which they learned to down-regulate brain activation during exposure to appetitive food pictures. FMRI feedback was given from individually determined target areas and through decreases/increases in food picture size, thus providing salient motivational consequences in terms of cue approach/avoidance. Our preliminary findings suggest that motivational neurofeedback is associated with functionally specific activation decreases in diverse cortical/subcortical regions, including key motivational areas. There was also preliminary evidence for a reduction of hunger after neurofeedback and an association between down-regulation success and the degree of hunger reduction. Decreasing neural cue responses by motivational neurofeedback may provide a useful extension of existing behavioral methods that aim to modulate cue reactivity. Our pilot findings indicate that reduction of neural cue reactivity is not achieved by top-down regulation but arises in a bottom-up manner, possibly through implicit operant shaping of target area activity.


open access article


Addiction, Brain imaging, Craving, Food pictures, Neurofeedback, Obesity, Visual cue reactivity, fMRI


Ihssen, N., Sokunbi, M.O., Lawrence, A.D., Lawrence, N.S. and Linden, D.E.J. (2016) Neurofeedback of visual food cue reactivity: a potential avenue to alter incentive sensitization and craving. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 11(3), pp. 915-924.


Research Institute

Institute for Allied Health Sciences Research