Kiyohito Iigaya, Tobias U. Hauser, Zeb Kurth-Nelson, John P. O’Doherty, Peter Dayan, Raymond J. Dolan
Having something to look forward to is a keystone of well-being. Anticipation of a future reward, like an upcoming vacation, can be more gratifying than the experience of reward itself. Theories of anticipation have described how it causes behaviors ranging from beneficial information-seeking to harmful addiction. Here, we investigated how the brain generates and enhances anticipatory pleasure, by analyzing brain activity of human participants who received information predictive of future pleasant outcomes in a decision-making task. Using a computational model of anticipation, we show that three regions orchestrate anticipatory pleasure. We show ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) tracks the value of anticipation; dopaminergic midbrain responds to information that enhances anticipation, while the sustained activity in hippocampus provides for functional coupling between these regions. This coordinating role for hippocampus is consistent with its known role in the vivid imagination of future outcomes. Our findings throw new light on the neural underpinnings of how anticipation influences decision-making, while also unifying a range of phenomena associated with risk and time-delay preference.