Women whose nucleus accumbens reacts strongly to pictures of appealing food are more likely to gain weight in the next six months.
The activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain associated with reward, can predict who will gain weight or have sex in the next six months, according to new research.
The nucleus accumbens, buried deep in the brain, has been linked to both pleasure and addiction. Now, a new study finds that young women whose nucleus accumbens reacts strongly to pictures of appealing food are more likely to gain weight in the next six months compared with women with more muted responses. Likewise, when the nucleus accumbens responds more strongly to sexual imagery, women are more likely to be sexually active within the next six months.
“This study is nice in a sense in that it’s one of the first ones to actually tie your brain responses to more long-term measures of behavior,” study researcher Bill Kelley, a psychologist at Dartmouth University, told LiveScience.
In the long run, Kelley added, the brain’s reward system is likely to be only a piece of the puzzle. How good a person is at overriding that system through willpower will matter too, he said.
Brain and behavior
Certain health conditions, including bulimia and obesity, have already been linked to high nucleus accumbens activity in response to food-related cues. Kelley and his colleagues wanted to find out if there was any predictive power to such linkages. So the researchers recruited 58 female college freshmen for a study in which they weighed the women and calculated their body mass index, or BMI (a measure of fatness). College freshmen were chosen because of the dreaded “Freshmen 15” weight gain, Kelley said. The researchers wanted a group of volunteers who might be at risk for putting on pounds. [8 Reasons Our Waistlines are Expanding]