Cara L. Buck; Jonathan D. Cohen; Field, Brent; Daniel Kahneman; Samuel M. McClure; Leigh E. Nystrom
Studies of subjective well-being have conventionally relied upon self-report, which directs subjects’ attention to their emotional experiences. This method presumes that attention itself does not influence emotional processes, which could bias sampling. We tested whether attention influences experienced utility (the moment-by-moment experience of pleasure) by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the activity of brain systems thought to represent hedonic value while manipulating attentional load. Subjects received appetitive or aversive solutions orally while alternatively executing a low or high attentional load task. Brain regions associated with hedonic processing, including the ventral striatum, showed a response to both juice and quinine. This response decreased during the high-load task relative to the low-load task. Thus, attentional allocation may influence experienced utility by modulating (either directly or indirectly) the activity of brain mechanisms thought to represent hedonic value.