Sports cars in contrast to other categories of cars are strong social reinforcers

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Cultural objects modulate reward circuitry by Erk S, Spitzer M, Wunderlich AP, Galley L, Walter H.

Using event-related fMRI we investigated the rewarding properties of cultural objects (cars) signaling wealth and social dominance. It has been shown recently that reward mechanisms are involved in the regulation of social relations like dominance and social rank. Based on evolutionary considerations we hypothesized that sports cars in contrast to other categories of cars, e.g. limousines and small cars, are strong social reinforcers and would modulate the dopaminergic reward circuitry. Twelve healthy male subjects were studied with fMRI while viewing photographs of different car classes followed by an attractivity rating. Behaviorally sports cars were rated significantly more attractive than limousines and small cars. Our fMRI results revealed significantly more activation in ventral striatum, orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate and occipital regions for sports cars in contrast to other categories of cars. We could thus demonstrate that artificial cultural objects associated with wealth and social dominance elicit activation in reward-related brain areas.