Anticipatory pleasure predicts motivation for reward in major depression

J Abnorm Psychol. 2012 Feb;121(1):51-60. doi: 10.1037/a0024945. Epub 2011 Aug 15.


Anhedonia, the lack of interest or pleasure in response to hedonic stimuli or experiences, is a cardinal symptom of depression. This deficit in hedonic processing has been posited to influence depressed individuals' motivation to engage in potentially rewarding experiences. Accumulating evidence indicates that hedonic processing is not a unitary construct but rather consists of an anticipatory and a consummatory phase. We examined how these components of hedonic processing influence motivation to obtain reward in participants diagnosed with major depression and in never-disordered controls. Thirty-eight currently depressed and 30 never-disordered control participants rated their liking of humorous and nonhumorous cartoons and then made a series of choices between viewing a cartoon from either group. Each choice was associated with a specified amount of effort participants would have to exert before viewing the chosen cartoon. Although depressed and control participants did not differ in their consummatory liking of the rewards, levels of reward liking predicted motivation to expend effort for the rewards only in the control participants; in the depressed participants, liking and motivation were dissociated. In the depressed group, levels of anticipatory anhedonia predicted motivation to exert effort for the rewards. These findings support the formulation that anhedonia is not a unitary construct and suggest that, for depressed individuals, deficits in motivation for reward are driven primarily by low anticipatory pleasure and not by decreased consummatory liking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult