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Author Notes:

To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: gberns@emory.edu

We thank C. M. Capra, C. Noussair, A. Rangel, and A. Rustichini for comments on this paper.


Research Funding:

Supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA00367 and DA016434)

Neurobiological Substrates of Dread


Journal Title:



Volume 312, Number 5774


, Pages 754-758

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Given the choice of waiting for an adverse outcome or getting it over with quickly, many people choose the latter. Theoretical models of decision-making have assumed that this occurs because there is a cost to waiting—i.e., dread. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we measured the neural responses to waiting for a cutaneous electric shock. Some individuals dreaded the outcome so much that, when given a choice, they preferred to receive more voltage rather than wait. Even when no decision was required, these extreme dreaders were distinguishable from those who dreaded mildly by the rate of increase of neural activity in the posterior elements of the cortical pain matrix. This suggests that dread derives, in part, from the attention devoted to the expected physical response and not simply from fear or anxiety. Although these differences were observed during a passive waiting procedure, they correlated with individual behavior in a subsequent choice paradigm, providing evidence for a neurobiological link between the experienced disutility of dread and subsequent decisions about unpleasant outcomes.

Copyright information:

© 2006, American Association for the Advancement of Science

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