The Brain’s Reward Response Occurs Even Without Actual Reward! (2017)

J Gambl Stud. 2017 Oct 12. doi: 10.1007/s10899-017-9721-3.


What if the brain’s response to reward occurs even when there is no reward? Wouldn’t that be a further concern for people prone to problem gambling and other forms of addiction, like those related to eating? Electroencephalography was employed to investigate this possibility using probabilistic feedback manipulations and measures of known event-related potentials (ERPs) related to reward processing. We tested the hypothesis-that reward-based ERPs would occur even in the absence of a tangible reward and when manipulations on expectation are implicit. The well-known P300 response potential was a key focus, and was assessed in non-gambling volunteer undergraduates on a task involving experimentally-manipulated probabilities of positive or negative feedback comprising three trial types-80, 50, or 20% positive feedback. A feedback stimulus (F1) followed a guess response between two possible outcomes (implicit win/loss), and then a second feedback stimulus (F2) was presented to confirm an alleged ‘win’ or ‘loss’ (explicit win/loss). Results revealed that amplitude of the P300 in F1-locked data (implicit manipulation) was larger (more positive) on average for feedback outcomes that were manipulated to be less likely than expected. The effect is pronounced after increased time on task (later trials), even though the majority of participants were not explicitly aware of our probability manipulations. For the explicit effects in F2-locked data, no meaningful or significant effects were observed. These findings point to the existence of proposed success-response mechanisms that operate not only explicitly but also with implicit manipulations that do not involve any direct indication of a win or loss, and are not associated with tangible rewards. Thus, there seems to be a non-explicit form of perception (we call ‘implicit’) associated with an internal experience of wins/losses (in the absence of actual rewards or losses) that can be measured in associated brain processes. The potential significance of these findings is discussed in terms of implications for problem gambling.

KEYWORDS:  EEG; FRN; Gambling; P300; Reward task

PMID: 29027071

DOI: 10.1007/s10899-017-9721-3