People can dampen their anticipation of an upcoming reward by re-directing their thoughts, reports a study published online in Nature Neuroscience this week.
Elizabeth Phelps and colleagues measured anticipatory physiological and neural responses to a cue which people had learned predicted monetary rewards. Each time the cue was presented, people were asked to think of either the reward predicted by the cue, or something calming that was the same colour as the cue. The calming strategy reduced activation in the striatum ? an area of the brain thought to be involved in expectations of reward ? and diminished skin conductance responses, a measure of arousal which may relate to reward anticipation.
These results suggest that emotion regulation might be useful in controlling urges elicited by reward-predicting stimuli such as drug cravings.