Reward Processing in Trichotillomania and Skin Picking Disorder

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Brain Imaging and Behavior

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DOI: 10.1007/s11682-021-00533-5


Trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder) and skin picking disorder are common and often debilitating mental health conditions, grouped under the umbrella term of body focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). Although the pathophysiology of BFRBs is incompletely understood, reward processing dysfunction has been implicated in the etiology and sustention of these disorders. The purpose of this study was to probe reward processing in BFRBs. 159 adults (125 with a BFRB [83.2% (n = 104) female] and 34 healthy controls [73.5% (n = 25) female]) were recruited from the community for a multi-center between-group comparison using a functional imaging (fMRI) monetary reward task. Differences in brain activation during reward anticipation and punishment anticipation were compared between BFRB patients and controls, with stringent correction for multiple comparisons. All group level analyses controlled for age, sex and scanning site. Compared to controls, BFRB participants showed marked hyperactivation of the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (pars opercularis and pars triangularis) compared to controls. In addition, BFRB participants exhibited increased activation in multiple areas during the anticipation of loss (right fusiform gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, cerebellum, right inferior parietal lobule; left inferior frontal gyrus). There were no significant differences in the win-lose contrast between the two groups. These data indicate the existence of dysregulated reward circuitry in BFRBs. The identified pathophysiology of reward dysfunction may be useful to tailor future treatments.


Brain Imaging and Behavior, Vol. 16, No. 2 (April 2022): 547-556. DOI.