Brain Generators of Intense Wanting and Liking

Brain Generators of Intense Wanting and Liking


Brain mechanisms for intensely “wanting” something are different from the mechanisms for “liking” that same thing. “Wanting” generators, robust and large mechanisms that include many brain structures, are easily stimulated into highly reactive states. In stimulated brain states, encountering cues related to the temptation (or vividly imagining it) triggers intense pulses of craving. In addicts, the brain “wanting” generators may become further stimulated through neural sensitization by drugs (or by natural causes). Sensitization can produce intense wanting even for something that is not “liked.” By contrast, brain “liking” mechanisms that generate intense pleasures are smaller, fewer, fragile, and easily disrupted. This is one reason why intense pleasures are far less frequent or lasting than intense desires. The independence of brain “wanting” mechanisms allows causation of intense desires that can become quite irrational. An interesting feature of “wanting” mechanisms is that they can generate intense desire even for things that cannot be expected to be pleasant or things that have always been unpleasant in the past. This capacity to “want” what is known to be unpleasant evolved for adaptive natural appetites, but it has been co-opted by maladaptive addictive drugs. Finally, there is surprising overlap in the brain between mechanisms that generate intense mesolimbic “wants” and mechanisms that generate some types of fear. That is, the same brain circuit can have different modes that generate desire and dread, and can even produce both emotions at the same moment.

  • Dialogue 27
    11 sessions
  • October 29, 2013
    Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
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Kent Berridge

Kent Berridge, PhD, is the James Olds collegiate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on answering questions such as: How is pleasure generated in the brain? How do wanting and liking interact? What causes addition? Does fear share anything with desire? Can an emotion ever be unconscious? He serves on editorial boards for several scientific journals, and co-edited the book Pleasures of the Brain. Among other honors, Berridge has been a Guggenheim fellow and a Fulbright senior scholar.