Meta-analytic clustering dissociates brain activity and behavior profiles across reward processing paradigms


Reward learning is a ubiquitous cognitive mechanism guiding adaptive choices and behaviors, and when impaired, can lead to considerable mental health consequences. Reward-related functional neuroimaging studies have begun to implicate networks of brain regions essential for processing various peripheral influences (e.g., risk, subjective preference, delay, social context) involved in the multifaceted reward processing construct. To provide a more complete neurocognitive perspective on reward processing that synthesizes findings across the literature while also appreciating these peripheral influences, we used emerging meta-analytic techniques to elucidate brain regions, and in turn networks, consistently engaged in distinct aspects of reward processing. Using a data-driven, meta-analytic, k-means clustering approach, we dissociated seven meta-analytic groupings (MAGs) of neuroimaging results (i.e., brain activity maps) from 749 experimental contrasts across 176 reward processing studies involving 13,358 healthy participants. We then performed an exploratory functional decoding approach to gain insight into the putative functions associated with each MAG. We identified a seven-MAG clustering solution that represented dissociable patterns of convergent brain activity across reward processing tasks. Additionally, our functional decoding analyses revealed that each of these MAGs mapped onto discrete behavior profiles that suggested specialized roles in predicting value (MAG-1 & MAG-2) and processing a variety of emotional (MAG-3), external (MAG-4 & MAG-5), and internal (MAG-6 & MAG-7) influences across reward processing paradigms. These findings support and extend aspects of well-accepted reward learning theories and highlight large-scale brain network activity associated with distinct aspects of reward processing.