Images of desire: Food-craving activation during fMRI

Marcia Levin Pelchat, Andrea Johnson, Robin Chan, Jeffrey Valdez, John D Ragland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

425 Scopus citations


Food craving (defined as an intense desire to eat a specific food) is of interest because it is extremely common and because it influences obesity or nutritional status. It has also been suggested that food craving may be the evolutionary source for cravings of all kinds including cravings for drugs and alcohol. Yet, little is known about the functional neuroanatomy of food craving. We report here the first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to explicitly examine food craving. A two-part technique was used to produce the food cravings. Threshold was reduced through a diet manipulation (monotonous diet) and cravings were triggered during blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) fMRI sessions by having subjects imagine the sensory properties of favorite foods (a cue-induction technique). Subjects were also asked to imagine the monotonous diet (which they did not crave). Diet condition had an activating effect on both behavioral (reports of craving) and fMRI measures. Craving-related changes in fMRI signal were identified in the hippocampus, insula, and caudate, three areas reported to be involved in drug craving. Thus, this work supports the common substrate hypothesis for food and drug cravings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1486-1493
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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