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Neurofeedback of visual food cue reactivity: a potential avenue to alter incentive sensitization and craving

Ihssen, N.; Sokunbi, M.O.; Lawrence, A.D.; Lawrence, N.S.; Linden, D.E.J.

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M.O. Sokunbi

A.D. Lawrence

N.S. Lawrence

D.E.J. Linden


FMRI-based neurofeedback transforms functional brain activation in real-time into sensory stimuli that participants can use to self-regulate brain responses, which can aid the modification of mental states and behavior. Emerging evidence supports the clinical utility of neurofeedback-guided up-regulation of hypoactive networks. In contrast, down-regulation of hyperactive neural circuits appears more difficult to achieve. There are conditions though, in which down-regulation would be clinically useful, including dysfunctional motivational states elicited by salient reward cues, such as food or drug craving. In this proof-of-concept study, 10 healthy females (mean age = 21.40 years, mean BMI = 23.53) who had fasted for 4 h underwent a novel ‘motivational neurofeedback’ training in which they learned to down-regulate brain activation during exposure to appetitive food pictures. FMRI feedback was given from individually determined target areas and through decreases/increases in food picture size, thus providing salient motivational consequences in terms of cue approach/avoidance. Our preliminary findings suggest that motivational neurofeedback is associated with functionally specific activation decreases in diverse cortical/subcortical regions, including key motivational areas. There was also preliminary evidence for a reduction of hunger after neurofeedback and an association between down-regulation success and the degree of hunger reduction. Decreasing neural cue responses by motivational neurofeedback may provide a useful extension of existing behavioral methods that aim to modulate cue reactivity. Our pilot findings indicate that reduction of neural cue reactivity is not achieved by top-down regulation but arises in a bottom-up manner, possibly through implicit operant shaping of target area activity.


Ihssen, N., Sokunbi, M., Lawrence, A., Lawrence, N., & Linden, D. (2016). Neurofeedback of visual food cue reactivity: a potential avenue to alter incentive sensitization and craving. Brain Imaging and Behavior, 11(3), 915-924.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 9, 2016
Online Publication Date May 27, 2016
Publication Date May 27, 2016
Deposit Date Jun 23, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jun 23, 2016
Journal Brain Imaging and Behavior
Print ISSN 1931-7557
Electronic ISSN 1931-7565
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 11
Issue 3
Pages 915-924


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (1.9 Mb)

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Copyright Statement
Advance online version Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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