Similar to patients with orbitofrontal cortex lesions, substance dependent individuals (SDI) show signs of impairments in decision-making, characterised by a tendency to choose the immediate reward at the expense of severe negative future consequences. The somatic-marker hypothesis proposes that decision-making depends in many important ways on neural substrates that regulate homeostasis, emotion and feeling. According to this model, there should be a link between abnormalities in experiencing emotions in SDI, and their severe impairments in decision-making in real-life. Growing evidence from neuroscientific studies suggests that core aspects of substance addiction may be explained in terms of abnormal emotional guidance of decision-making. Behavioural studies have revealed emotional processing and decision-making deficits in SDI. Combined neuropsychological and physiological assessment has demonstrated that the poorer decision-making of SDI is associated with altered reactions to reward and punishing events. Imaging studies have shown that impaired decision-making in addiction is associated with abnormal functioning of a distributed neural network critical for the processing of emotional information, including the ventromedial cortex, the amygdala, the striatum, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insular/somato-sensory cortices, as well as non-specific neurotransmitter systems that modulate activities of neural processes involved in decision-making. The aim of this paper is to review this growing evidence, and to examine the extent of which these studies support a somatic-marker model of addiction.
- Somatic states
- Ventromedial prefrontal cortex