Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Preferences for novel stimuli tend to develop slowly over many exposures. Psychological accounts of this effect suggest that it depends on changes in the brain's valuation system. Participants consumed a novel fluid daily for 10 days and underwent fMRI on the first and last days. We hypothesized that changes in activation in areas associated with the dopamine system would accompany changes in preference. The change in activation in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) between sessions scaled with preference change. Furthermore, a network comprising the sensory thalamus, posterior insula, and ventrolateral striatum showed differential connectivity with the VTA that correlated with individual changes in preference. Our results suggest that the VTA is centrally involved in both assigning value to sensory stimuli and influencing downstream regions to translate these value signals into subjective preference. These results have important implications for models of dopaminergic function and behavioral addiction.