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Open Access Technical advance

Toward a new computer-based and easy-to-use tool for the objective measurement of motivational states in humans: a pilot study

Bruno Aouizerate1236*, Camille Gouzien1236, Olivier Doumy1236, Pierre Philip34, Catherine Semal35, Laurent Demany35, Pier Vincenzo Piazza23 and Daniela Cota236

Author Affiliations

1 Regional medical center for the management and treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders, Centre Hospitalier Charles Perrens, Bordeaux, F-33076, France

2 INSERM, Neurocentre Magendie, Physiopathologie de la Plasticité Neuronale, Bordeaux, U862, F-33000, France

3 Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, F-33000, France

4 Study group “Neurophysiology, pharmacology, sleep and sleepiness”, CHU de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, F-33076, France

5 Group “Auditory perception and development”, CNRS UMR 5287, Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives et Intégratives d’Aquitaine, Bordeaux, F-33076, France

6 Group “Energy Balance and Obesity”, INSERM U862, Neurocentre Magendie, 146 Rue Léo Saignat, Bordeaux, F-33077, France

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BMC Psychology 2014, 2:23  doi:10.1186/s40359-014-0023-6

Published: 11 August 2014



The experimental methods currently used for assessing motivational processes in humans have two major limitations. Some of them rely on global subjective assessments while others evaluate these processes using food-related tasks often coupled with functional neuroimaging techniques that have however limited availability and important associated costs. Here we propose a novel experimental computer-generated and easy-to-use tool primarily based on the presentation of food images and designed to provide a quantitative and objective measurement of motivational states in humans.


Two tasks evaluating respectively visual and time discrimination capacities were developed and tested on a sample of 30 healthy subjects. The subjects were asked to compare a food stimulus (food picture in color) and its devalued counterpart (same image in grayscale), at each trial, assessing either the size (task A) or the duration of presentation (task B). Geometric figures presented in color or grayscale were used as controls. The subjects were invited to perform tasks A and B during three separate experimental sessions, one under fasting and two under satiety.


Relative to their devalued counterparts, the food images were judged significantly greater in size and shorter in time of presentation in fasting than in satiety. In fasting, the size and the time of presentation for the food images were respectively estimated significantly greater and shorter than for the control images when compared to their respective devalued counterparts. Conversely, there was no overall change in the perception of size or duration of presentation for the control images between fasting and satiety conditions.


Our findings support that hunger specifically affects the perception of visual food stimuli, and suggest that this novel computer-based test is potentially useful for the study of motivational states in human diseases that are characterized by serious disturbances in reward processing.

Motivation; Computer-based tasks; Food images; Psychophysics