Pleasure rather than salience activates human nucleus accumbens and medial prefrontal cortex

Dean Sabatinelli, Margaret M. Bradley, Peter J. Lang, Vincent D. Costa, Francesco Versace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

141 Scopus citations


Recent human functional imaging studies have linked the processing of pleasant visual stimuli to activity in mesolimbic reward structures. However, whether the activation is driven specifically by the pleasantness of the stimulus, or by its salience, is unresolved. Here we find in two studies that free viewing of pleasant images of erotic and romantic couples prompts clear, reliable increases in nucleus accumbens (NAc) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) activity, whereas equally arousing (salient) unpleasant images, and neutral pictures, do not. These data suggest that in visual perception, the human NAc and mPFC are specifically reactive to pleasant, rewarding stimuli and are not engaged by unpleasant stimuli, despite high stimulus salience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1374-1379
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology

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