It may be difficult for addicted individuals to learn when they can expect a reward. This learning problem could perhaps explain why they are more prone to addiction and find it difficult to kick the habit. Researchers at Radboud university medical center and Radboud University reached this conclusion on the basis of an extensive meta-analysis of the brain imaging literature. Their findings will be published in JAMA Psychiatry on 1 February.
People with an addiction process rewards in their brain differently from people who are not addicted. However, whether this is associated with “too much” or “too little” brain activity is an open question. Indeed, past research has produced conflicting findings. In order to get a reliable answer, researchers Arnt Schellekens (Radboud university medical center), Guillaume Sescousse and Maartje Luijten (Radboud University) have combined 25 studies investigating brain reward sensitivity in more than 1200 individuals with and without addiction to various substances such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine but also gambling. By analyzing the brain images from these studies, they have discovered an important difference in brain activity between expecting a reward and receiving a reward.