Roles of "Wanting" and "Liking" in Motivating Behavior: Gambling, Food, and Drug Addictions

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2016:27:105-36. doi: 10.1007/7854_2015_387.


The motivation to seek out and consume rewards has evolutionarily been driven by the urge to fulfill physiological needs. However in a modern society dominated more by plenty than scarcity, we tend to think of motivation as fueled by the search for pleasure. Here, we argue that two separate but interconnected subcortical and unconscious processes direct motivation: "wanting" and "liking." These two psychological and neuronal processes and their related brain structures typically work together, but can become dissociated, particularly in cases of addiction. In drug addiction, for example, repeated consumption of addictive drugs sensitizes the mesolimbic dopamine system, the primary component of the "wanting" system, resulting in excessive "wanting" for drugs and their cues. This sensitizing process is long-lasting and occurs independently of the "liking" system, which typically remains unchanged or may develop a blunted pleasure response to the drug. The result is excessive drug-taking despite minimal pleasure and intense cue-triggered craving that may promote relapse long after detoxification. Here, we describe the roles of "liking" and "wanting" in general motivation and review recent evidence for a dissociation of "liking" and "wanting" in drug addiction, known as the incentive sensitization theory (Robinson and Berridge 1993). We also make the case that sensitization of the "wanting" system and the resulting dissociation of "liking" and "wanting" occurs in both gambling disorder and food addiction.

Keywords: Addiction; Gambling; Incentive salience; Motivation; Obesity; Overconsumption; Sensitization; “Liking”; “Wanting”.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Emotions
  • Food*
  • Gambling / physiopathology
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / physiopathology
  • Hyperphagia / psychology*
  • Motivation*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*