Facial responses of adult humans during the anticipation and consumption of touch and food rewards

Sebastian Korb, Claudia Massaccesi, Andreas Gartus, Johan Lundström, Raffaella Rumiati, Christoph Eisenegger, Giorgia Silani

Whether cognitive, motivational and hedonic aspects of reward anticipation and consumption can be reliably assessed with explicit and implicit measures, and if different motivational (decision utility) and hedonic (experienced utility) processes get recruited by distinct reward types, remain partly unsolved questions that are relevant for theories of social and non-social decision-making. We investigated these topics using a novel experimental paradigm, including carefully matched social and nonsocial rewards, and by focusing on facial responses. Facial expressions are indeed an often-cited implicit measure of rewards' hedonic impact. For example, food rewards elicit powerful facial responses - characterized by lip smacking, tongue protrusion, and relaxation of the middle face - in human newborns, juvenile monkeys, and adult rats. The same stimuli elicit more nuanced facial reactions in adult humans, which can be best captured with facial electromyography (fEMG). However, little is known about facial expressions preceding reward consumption, reflecting the motivation to obtain and possibly the expected pleasantness of a reward, and whether similar facial expressions are elicited by different types of rewards. To investigate these questions, a novel within-subject experimental paradigm was developed. During the anticipation and consumption of social (affective touch) and nonsocial (food) rewards, explicit (ratings of wanting and liking, physical effort) and implicit (fEMG) measures of wanting and liking were taken in 43 healthy adult participants. Reduced activation of the Corrugator Supercilii (CS) muscle (reflecting less frowning and indicating greater positive response) was found in trials with higher wanting and effort during the anticipation of food rewards, as well as in trials with higher liking and effort during the consumption of food rewards. The CS muscle is thus a sensitive measure of wanting and liking of food rewards both during their anticipation and consumption. Crucially, thanks to careful reward matching, these results cannot be explained by differences in subjective wanting, liking, or effort produced to obtain the two types of rewards. No significant modulation of the Zygomaticus Major (ZM) muscle was found for social or food rewards. Explorative analyses however indicated that the ZM may activate during the delivery of the most wanted touch, but not for the most wanted food. The absence of significant effects of social rewards on the activation of CS and ZM muscles are discussed in relation to the specifics of this innovative task comparing two types of matched rewards in the same participants. The present findings contribute to the understanding of the processes underlying motivational and hedonic aspects of rewards, and may therefore inform models of social and non-social decision-making.

Institut für Klinische und Gesundheitspsychologie, Institut für Psychologie der Kognition, Emotion und Methoden
Externe Organisation(en)
Karolinska Institute, Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati
Anzahl der Seiten
ÖFOS 2012
501030 Kognitionswissenschaft, 501001 Allgemeine Psychologie, 501006 Experimentalpsychologie
ASJC Scopus Sachgebiete
Experimental and Cognitive Psychology, Developmental and Educational Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Language and Linguistics, Linguistics and Language
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