What is “incentive salience”?

From Berridge, 2009 — Dissecting components of reward: ‘liking’, ‘wanting’, and learning

incentive salience, a type of incentive motivation that promotes approach toward and consumption of rewards, […] has distinct psychological and neurobiological features. For example, incentive salience is distinguishable from more cognitive forms of desire meant by the ordinary word, wanting, that involve declarative goals or explicit expectations of future outcomes, and which are largely mediated by cortical circuits. By comparison, incentive salience is mediated by more subcortically weighted neural systems that include mesolimbic dopamine projections, does not require elaborate cognitive expectations and is focused more directly on reward-related stimuli. In cases such as addiction, involving incentive-sensitization, the difference between incentive salience and more cognitive desires can sometimes lead to what could be called irrational ‘wanting’: that is, a ‘want’ for what is not cognitively wanted, caused by excessive incentive salience.

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