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NYU, Rutgers study shows how using mental strategies can alter the brain's reward circuitry
Date:6/29/2008

The cognitive strategies humans use to regulate emotions can determine both neurological and physiological responses to potential rewards, a team of New York University and Rutgers University neuroscientists has discovered. The findings, reported in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, shed light on how the regulation of emotions may influence decision making.

Previous research has demonstrated these strategies can alter responses to negative events. However, less understood is whether such strategies can also efficiently regulate expectations of a future reward or a desired outcome. Scientists have already determined that the expectation of a potential reward brings about positive feelings and aids recognizing environmental cues that predict future rewards. Central to this process is the role of the striatum, a multi-faceted structure in the brain that is involved in reward processingand which is especially engaged when potential rewards are predicted or anticipated.

However, the striatum signal is not always beneficial. Its activity also correlates with drug-specific cravings, most likely increasing urges to partake in risk-seeking behavior in the pursuit of rewards that are detrimental. Therefore, understanding how to regulate or control the positive feelings associated with reward expectation is an important line of inquiry.

The NYU study was conducted by a team of researchers from the laboratory of NYU Professor Elizabeth Phelps, who co-authored the work with Mauricio R. Delgado, now a professor at Rutgers University, and M. Meredith Gillis, an NYU graduate student. They sought to better understand the influence of emotional regulation strategies on the physiological and neural processes relevant to expectations of reward.

The study's subjects were presented with two conditioned stimuli, a blue and a yellow square that either predicted or did not predict a potential monetary reward. Prior
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Contact: James Devitt
james.devitt@nyu.edu
212-998-6808
New York University
Source:Eurekalert

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