Social Reward

Reward processing has important functions in almost all aspects of life. For example, the rewarding nature of food and sex assures survival and reproduction, the expectation of money and status drives humans to work hard and the desire for social relatedness and affiliation guides human behavior in social interactions. On a neural level, the anticipation and the approach towards rewards is mediated by the mesolimbic reward system:  dopamine neurons in the midbrain project to the striatum (especially the nucleus accumbens) and prefrontal cortex.

In our research group, we focus on social rewards, e.g. the rewarding function of social interaction.  We could show that the expectation of a smiling face is associated with activation of brain areas also active during the anticipation of monetary rewards (Spreckelmeyer et al., 2009) and that neural mechanisms underlying reward consumption are more modality-specific than those for reward anticipation (Rademacher et al., 2010). 

Social Reward in Psychiatry

Reward processing is disturbed in various psychiatric disorders, for example addictive disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia. In a current fMRI study, we investigate social reward processing  in nicotine-addicted smokers and the impact of smoking cessation. Furthermore, our research group collaborates with the University of Giessen to examine the effects of cognitive training on social reward processing in schizophrenia. 

Publications on this topic

Rademacher L, Krach S, Kohls G, Irmak A, Gründer G, Spreckelmeyer KN (2010). Dissociation of neural networks for anticipation and consumption of monetary and social rewards. Neuroimage, 49, 3276–3285.


Spreckelmeyer KN, Krach S, Kohls G, Rademacher L, Irmak A, Konrad K, Kircher T, Gründer G (2009). Anticipation of monetary and social reward differently activates mesolimbic brain structures in men and women. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 4 (2), 158-65.