Imaginary relish and exquisite torture: the elaborated intrusion theory of desire

Psychol Rev. 2005 Apr;112(2):446-67. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.112.2.446.


The authors argue that human desire involves conscious cognition that has strong affective connotation and is potentially involved in the determination of appetitive behavior rather than being epiphenomenal to it. Intrusive thoughts about appetitive targets are triggered automatically by external or physiological cues and by cognitive associates. When intrusions elicit significant pleasure or relief, cognitive elaboration usually ensues. Elaboration competes with concurrent cognitive tasks through retrieval of target-related information and its retention in working memory. Sensory images are especially important products of intrusion and elaboration because they simulate the sensory and emotional qualities of target acquisition. Desire images are momentarily rewarding but amplify awareness of somatic and emotional deficits. Effects of desires on behavior are moderated by competing incentives, target availability, and skills. The theory provides a coherent account of existing data and suggests new directions for research and treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Imagination*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Volition*