Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Wanting and liking

Wanting and liking:
What are the similarities and differences between wanting and liking, and what are the implications?


Wanting and liking are separate urges controlled by different brain circuits and when combined at once, the impact on the brain is powerful.

Have you ever wanted something, only to get it and realise you didn’t like it? What did you learn from the experience?

This chapter will aim to outline the similarities and differences in the pleasures of liking and wanting.

  1. a brief, evocative description of the problem
  2. an image
  3. an example or case study

- Definition of both liking and wanting.

- Outline major differences and similarities between wanting and liking.

- When to use liking vs when to use wanting


Focus questions:

  • What is liking?
  • What is wanting?
  • How can we distinguish liking from wanting?
  • What brain mechanisms are involved in liking and wanting?


How do we define Liking?

- specific motivation/emotion theories/research.

- Pleasure and Happiness: Brain mechanisms of ‘pleasure ‘liking’ may even play an important role in generating human happiness (Kringelbach & Berridge, 2009)

Brain mechanisms involved in likingEdit

Hedonic impactEdit


How do we define liking?

Wanting provides the motivation to seek out the thing that gives us pleasure

Interesting study 'Stress Increases Cue-Triggered “Wanting” for Sweet Reward in Humans' (Pool et al., 2015)[1]

Brain mechanisms involved in wantingEdit

Incentive salienceEdit

Incentive salience is a percept-bound type of “wanting”, which typically occurs as relatively brief peaks upon encountering a reward or a physical reminder of the reward (a cue).

Liking and wantingEdit


While we often use like and want interchangeably, in the realm of cognitive psychology, they’re two different things.

'Wanting' is mediated by a robust brain system including dopamine projections (left, dark gray), whereas 'liking' is mediated by a restricted brain system of small hedonic hotspots (white) (Berridge and Kringelbach, 2015).



- The incentive-sensitization theory posits the essence of drug addiction to be excessive amplification specifically of psychological ‘wanting’, especially triggered by cues, without necessarily an amplification of ‘liking’ [2]

Use liking and wanting to our advantageEdit

The implications of liking and wantingEdit

- “wanting” and “liking” depend on mechanisms acting below the level of consciousness, explaining why individuals often struggle to enhance or refrain their motivations and emotions by means of conscious control.

- ‘liking’ (hedonic impact), ‘wanting’ (incentive salience)

- liking refers to an emotional state whereas wanting has more to do with motivation and decision utility (Berridge and Aldridge, 2008).

- The wanting-type pleasure relies on the dopamine system. Dopamine is released each time you’re looking forwards to something. The liking-type pleasure relies on your reward-driven system. When you do something you enjoy doing, opiates such as endorphins are released as a reward (Litman, 2005)

Case studyEdit

Psychology of liking and wantingEdit

“I want to spend more time in the outdoors.” vs. “I like spending in the outdoors.”

- Usually a brain ‘likes’ the rewards that it ‘wants’. But sometimes it may just ‘want’ them. Research has established that ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ rewards are dissociable both psychologically and neurobiologically.

- Addiction changes our brains, and we can develop what neuroscientists call incentive salience.  This kind of wanting continues long after the thrill is over. We may not derive any pleasure from the drinking and drugging, the shoe accumulation and the relationship. We may not even like any of it. But, the want compels us to do it all.

"We typically want what we like, and like what we want," Smith said. "But these results suggest that wanting and liking are processed by distinct brain circuits and may not always go hand-in-hand."



- summarise key points

- answer focus questions

  Suggestions for this section:

  • What is the answer to the question in the sub-title (based on psychological theory and research)?
  • What are the answers to the focus questions?
  • What are the practical, take-home messages?

See alsoEdit

Provide up to half-a-dozen internal (wiki) links to relevant Wikiversity pages (esp. related motivation and emotion book chapters) and Wikipedia articles. For example:

  Suggestions for this section:

  • Present in alphabetical order.
  • Include the source in parentheses.


* Anselme, P., & Robinson, M. J. F. (2016). "Wanting," "liking," and their relation to consciousness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 42(2), 123–140.
  • Berridge, K. C. (2009). Wanting and Liking: Observations from the Neuroscience and Psychology Laboratory. Inquiry, 52(4), 378–398.
  • Berridge, K. C., Robinson, T. E., & Aldridge, J. W. (2009). Dissecting components of reward: ‘liking’, ‘wanting’, and learning. Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 9(1), 65–73.
  • Kringelbach, M. L., & Berridge, K. C. (2009). Towards a functional neuroanatomy of pleasure and happiness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(11), 479–487.
  • Litman, J. (2005). Curiosity and the pleasures of learning: Wanting and liking new information. Cognition & Emotion, 19(6), 793–814.
  • Pool, E., Brosch, T., Delplanque, S., & Sander, D. (2015). Stress increases cue-triggered “wanting” for sweet reward in humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 41(2), 128–136.
  • University of Michigan. (2007, March 3). Why 'Wanting' And 'Liking' Something Simultaneously Is Overwhelming. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2022 from

External linksEdit

What is the difference between liking and wanting in our brain?

  1. Pool, Eva; Brosch, Tobias; Delplanque, Sylvain; Sander, David (2015). "Stress increases cue-triggered “wanting” for sweet reward in humans.". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition 41 (2): 128–136. doi:10.1037/xan0000052. ISSN 2329-8464. 
  2. Berridge, Kent C.; Robinson, Terry E. (2016-11). "Liking, Wanting and the Incentive-Sensitization Theory of Addiction". The American psychologist 71 (8): 670–679. doi:10.1037/amp0000059. ISSN 0003-066X. PMID 27977239. PMC 5171207.