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Affiliated institutions: KU Leuven

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Description: The unexpected absence of danger constitutes a pleasurable event that is critical for the learning of safety. Accumulating evidence points to similarities between the processing of absent threat and the well-established reward prediction error (PE). However, clear-cut evidence for this analogy in humans is scarce. In line with recent animal data, we showed that the unexpected omission of (painful) electrical stimulation triggers reward-like activations within key regions of the canonical reward pathway and that these activations correlate with the pleasantness of the reported relief. Furthermore, by parametrically violating participants’ probability and intensity related expectations of the upcoming stimulation, we showed for the first time in humans that omission-related activations in the VTA/SN were stronger following omissions of more probable and intense stimulations, like a positive reward PE signal. Together, our findings provide additional support for an overlap in the neural processing of absent danger and rewards in humans.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International


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