EPS Prize Lecture. Licking and liking: the assessment of hedonic responses in rodents

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2012;65(3):371-94. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2011.652969.


Affective processes are a key determinant of behaviour: At its simplest, liked stimuli are approached while disliked stimuli are avoided. Although assessing hedonic responses in nonverbal animals can be difficult, one relatively tractable approach relies on detailed analyses of rodents' consummatory behaviour. Rodents typically produce rhythmic sets of licks that can be grouped into clusters on the basis of the intervals between licks. The mean number of licks in a cluster (cluster size) is directly related to the concentration of palatable and unpalatable solutions. These relationships suggest that lick cluster size might be a useful index of an animal's hedonic reaction to the solution being consumed. I begin by reviewing studies of conditioned flavour preference and aversion that support the idea that lick cluster size can provide useful information about rats' hedonic reactions. I then describe how this methodology has been used to address previously intractable issues in the investigation of contrast effects as well as revealing an analogue of effort justification effects that, in humans, are commonly explained in terms of cognitive dissonance reduction. Finally, I consider how lick analysis might provide information about hedonic responses in animal models of human psychiatric disorders. In all these cases, how an animal did something was particularly informative about why it was doing it.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Behavioral Symptoms
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Food Preferences
  • Humans
  • Rodentia / physiology*
  • Taste / physiology


  • Dopamine