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The Agony and the Ecstasy - an afternoon with Kent Berridge and Frederick Toates

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

Written by Clara Clein Wolfe on 03 March 2020.

Leap day 2020 was celebrated with a mini conference hosted by the London branch of the Open University Psychological Society [LOUPS]. The title of the conference was "The Agony and the Ecstasy" and looked at motivation, pleasure and pain. Two excellent lectures were presented by psychology behemoths and long-time friends, Professors Frederick Toates and Kent Berridge.

Frederick presented the first talk, looking at the basics of motivation, pleasure and pain. These basics include Maslow's hierarchy of needs, familiar to many of us from our studies, and Dr Babak Fozooni's pub social talk from October 2019. The infamous pyramid diagram depicts needs ranging from the physiological on the bottom, to self-actualisation at the peak. The hierarchy is an example of drive theory. Frederick outlined issues of drive theory, such as shoplifters who are doing so for the thrill, not the specific items stolen. Incentive motivation theory, explained as, "Incentives and internal representations of them excite motivation, e.g. drugs, sex, food", provides a more nuanced view of behaviour: wanting and liking. Work by Kent Berridge and Terry Robinson both drew upon and expanded Frederick's earlier research.

Kent's lecture was wonderful. High-level cognitive psychology was presented in an accessible way cognisant of the varied backgrounds represented in the room. The wanting and liking dimensions of, for example, addiction, had been conceptualised together - wanting and liking - by the Bindra-Toates model. The Berridge-Robinson model split the two. This separation captures these two important elements of an addiction but the significance of them in their own right. For example, someone may have a subjective craving for a substance yet may not derive pleasure from indulging in it, thus demonstrating the separation of wanting and liking. Kent's conclusions provided at the end of the lecture included that 'reward is a configuration' of liking, wanting and learning which, while often presented together, have individual identities.

The afternoon concluded with Frederick and Kent answering questions together. Their shared history, mutual respect and passion for psychology meant this was a lively Q&A session. The conference may have been half the day but it was in no way minor. Once again LOUPS hosted a magnificent event which was enjoyable in the moment, but which makes you look at the world through a different lens afterwards.

Thanks to everyone at LOUPS and Frederick and Kent.


  • Professor Frederick Toates: 'Motivation, pleasure and pain - the basics' PDF: 20200229-LOUPS-FToates.pdf

Professor Kent Berridge, University of Michigan: 'Motivation, pleasure and pain - latest developments'


Professor Kent C. Berridge (University of Michigan)

Kent is a professor of biopsychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan in the U.S.A. and joint winner of the 2018 Grawemeyer Award for Psychology. Together with his colleague, Terry Robinson, Kent has revolutionized the area of motivation and desire. Their work at the University of Michigan forms a principal foundation of the contemporary study of addiction and their 1993 article, "The neural basis of drug craving: an incentive-sensitization theory of addiction" has achieved iconic status and represents one of the most, if not the most, heavily cited articles of all time in the addiction field. The team has coined two new expressions, now widely used throughout psychology: (i) incentive salience and (ii) wanting versus liking. As well as addiction, their research has been extensively applied to understanding depression, obesity and schizophrenia.

Professor Frederick Toates (The Open University)

Frederick is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the Open University and President of OUPS. His research concerns motivation and emotion and the application of basic principles to understanding a wide range of behaviour, including addictions and obsessions. His latest publication" A framework for understanding sexual violence: Incentive-motivation and hierarchical control" appeared in the journal 'Aggression and Violent Behavior'.


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