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Understanding Wanting and Liking

Understanding Wanting and Liking


I’ve been reading about the Reward System in our brains – the thinking has developed over the last 30 years…

Latest thinking is we have two things going on in our Reward System:

  1. Wanting (desire) which is triggered by Dopamine and is easily ‘turned on’ and makes up a BIG part of our reward system (and also associated with dread and fear)
  2. Liking (pleasure) which happens with the release of opiodes and endocannabinoids. These chemicals, according to Dr Kent Berridge “paint a gloss of pleasure on good experiences”. Liking happens much less often and is a SMALL part of our reward system – more elusive than we think!

Wanting and Liking ‘wax and wane’ together. Hunger makes us want food, we like the food itself, but satiation dampens our desire. However, wanting comes back in, we want a pudding, and we like the sugar in the pudding too. Eventually the liking fizzles out (we feel full to bursting), but we still want that one last wafer thin mint… (Interestingly music and dancing has the power to sustain the wanting and liking interplay longest partly because it is a social pleasure…Rave on!)

Wanting is more powerful, more of a driver, even though it’s ultimately the pleasure that we’re after. In fact wanting can be unpleasant: aptly described as having the potential to create “lusting while loathing.”
Dopamine is responsible for addiction (to drugs, alcohol…sugar). Not only do we become addicted to the substance, but we become addicted to cues associated with it. So if you always buy your cakes from the same shop, you’ll start to want that shopping habit too.

Last thought on wanting. Novelty activates dopamine too, so giving people novelty puts them in a constant wanting state.

Modern life amplifies wanting. Not necessarily a good thing.


Kath Rhodes, Qual Street Owner

I love love learning and so I invest time and resources with Ambreen and Claire into exploring social psychology, neuro science, creativity and new techniques in research. Read all about it and help yourself to the ideas that will deliver your business the insight it needs

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