Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Pleasure


The sense of body ownership represents a fundamental aspect of our self-consciousness. Influential experimental paradigms, such as the rubber hand illusion (RHI), in which a seen rubber hand is experienced as part of one’s body when one’s own unseen hand receives congruent tactile stimulation, have extensively examined the role of exteroceptive, multisensory integration on body ownership. However, remarkably, despite the more general current interest in the nature and role of interoception in emotion and consciousness, no study has investigated how the illusion may be affected by interoceptive bodily signals, such as affective touch. Here, we recruited 52 healthy, adult participants and we investigated for the first time, whether applying slow velocity, light tactile stimuli, known to elicit interoceptive feelings of pleasantness, would influence the illusion more than faster, emotionally-neutral, tactile stimuli. We also examined whether seeing another person’s hand vs. a rubber hand would reduce the illusion in slow vs. fast stroking conditions, as interoceptive signals are used to represent one’s own body from within and it is unclear how they would be integrated with visual signals from another person’s hand. We found that slow velocity touch was perceived as more pleasant and it produced higher levels of subjective embodiment during the RHI compared with fast touch. Moreover, this effect applied irrespective of whether the seen hand was a rubber or a confederate’s hand. These findings provide support for the idea that affective touch, and more generally interoception, may have a unique contribution to the sense of body ownership, and by implication to our embodied psychological “self.”

Concepts: Perception, Sensory system, Sense, Somatosensory system, Proprioception, Feeling, Illusion, Pleasure


Background: Accumulating evidence supports behavioral activation (BA) as an effective stand-alone treatment for improving depression and related conditions, though little is known about the factors that influence positive outcomes. Such research is ripe for future dissemination and implementation efforts, particularly among vulnerable older adult populations in need of such efficacious and transportable treatments. Aims: Given the central but largely unexamined role that increasing activities plays in BA, we investigated the association between participation in weekly activities and treatment outcome. Method: As a preliminary study of this research question, we report on a sample of 20 older adults with symptoms of depression and complicated bereavement who completed 5 weeks of BA, pre- and posttreatment measures, and weekly planners of BA activities. All activities were coded as either functional or pleasurable (by participants) and if they were social in nature (by trained coders). Results: Overall, BA was associated with reductions in symptomatology. However, participants' total number of reported activities, and their relative proportion of functional, pleasurable, and social activities, did not significantly relate to their improvement in symptoms. Conclusion: One interpretation of the findings suggests that countering avoidance more generally, potentially independent of the specific type or total amount of activation activities, may be associated with amelioration of symptomatology.

Concepts: Improve, Participation, Effectiveness, Sociology, Behaviorism, Outcome, Programming language, Pleasure


Beneficial health properties of garlic, as well as its most common adverse effect - distinctive breath odour - are well-known. In contrast, analogous research on the effect of garlic on axillary odour is currently missing. Here, in three studies varying in the amount and nature of garlic provided (raw garlic in study 1 and 2, garlic capsules in study 3), we tested the effect of garlic consumption on quality of axillary odour. A balanced within-subject experimental design was used. In total, 42 male odour donors were allocated to either a “garlic” or “non-garlic” condition, after which they wore axillary pads for 12 hours to collect body odour. One week later, the conditions were reversed. Odour samples were then judged for their pleasantness, attractiveness, masculinity and intensity by 82 women. We found no significant differences in ratings of any characteristics in study 1. However, the odour of donors after an increased garlic dosage was assessed as significantly more pleasant, attractive and less intense (study 2), and more attractive and less intense in study 3. Our results indicate that garlic consumption may have positive effects on perceived body odour hedonicity, perhaps due to its health effects (e. g., antioxidant properties, antimicrobial activity).

Concepts: Effect, Affect, Perception, Garlic, Antimicrobial, Pleasure, Hedonism, Body odor


Pleasure is mediated by well-developed mesocorticolimbic circuitry and serves adaptive functions. In affective disorders, anhedonia (lack of pleasure) or dysphoria (negative affect) can result from breakdowns of that hedonic system. Human neuroimaging studies indicate that surprisingly similar circuitry is activated by quite diverse pleasures, suggesting a common neural currency shared by all. Wanting for reward is generated by a large and distributed brain system. Liking, or pleasure itself, is generated by a smaller set of hedonic hot spots within limbic circuitry. Those hot spots also can be embedded in broader anatomical patterns of valence organization, such as in a keyboard pattern of nucleus accumbens generators for desire versus dread. In contrast, some of the best known textbook candidates for pleasure generators, including classic pleasure electrodes and the mesolimbic dopamine system, may not generate pleasure after all. These emerging insights into brain pleasure mechanisms may eventually facilitate better treatments for affective disorders.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Brain, Affect, Basal ganglia, Dopamine, Mesolimbic pathway, Nucleus accumbens, Pleasure


Can people enjoy thinking if they set their mind to it? Previous work suggests that many people do not enjoy the deliberate attempt to have pleasurable thoughts. We suggest that deliberately thinking for pleasure requires mental resources that people are either unwilling or unable to devote to the task. If so, then people should enjoy pleasant thoughts that occur unintentionally more than pleasant thoughts that occur intentionally. This hypothesis was confirmed in an experience sampling study (Study 1) in which participants were contacted 4 times a day for 7 days and asked to rate what they had been thinking about. In Studies 2-5 we experimentally manipulated how easy it was for people to engage in pleasurable thought when given the goal of doing so. All participants listed topics they would enjoy thinking about; then some were given a simple “thinking aid” that was designed to make this experience easier. Participants who received the aid found the experience easier and enjoyed it more. The findings suggest that thinking for pleasure is cognitively demanding, but that a simple thinking aid makes it easier and more enjoyable. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Mind, Idea, Concepts in metaphysics, Thought, Pleasure


Stress can increase reward pursuits: This has traditionally been seen as an attempt to relieve negative affect through the hedonic properties of a reward. However, reward pursuit is not always proportional to the pleasure experienced, because reward processing involves distinct components, including the motivation to obtain a reward (i.e., wanting) and the hedonic pleasure during the reward consumption (i.e., liking). Research conducted on rodents demonstrates that stress might directly amplify the cue-triggered wanting, suggesting that under stress wanting can be independent from liking. Here, we aimed to test whether a similar mechanism exists in humans. We used analog of a Pavlovian-Instrumental Transfer test (PIT) with an olfactory reward to measure the cue triggered wanting for a reward but also the sensory hedonic liking felt during the consumption of the same reward. The analog of a PIT procedure, in which participants learned to associate a neutral image and an instrumental action with a chocolate odor, was combined with either a stress-inducing or stress-free behavioral procedure. Results showed that compared with participants in the stress-free condition, those in the stress condition mobilized more effort in instrumental action when the reward-associated cue was displayed, even though they did not report the reward as being more pleasurable. These findings suggest that, in humans, stress selectively increases cue-triggered wanting, independently of the hedonic properties of the reward. Such a mechanism supports the novel explanation proposed by animal research as to why stress often produces cue-triggered bursts of binge eating, relapses in drug addiction, or gambling. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Drug addiction, Motivation, Suffering, Utilitarianism, Pleasure, Hedonism, Pleasure center, Pleasure principle


The pursuit of happiness and reward is an impetus for everyday human behavior and the basis of well-being. Although optimal well-being may be achieved through eudaimonic activities (e.g., meaning and purpose), individuals tend to orient toward hedonic activities (e.g., pleasure seeking), potentially placing them at risk for ill-being. We implemented a longitudinal study and followed adolescents over 1 y to examine whether neural sensitivity to eudaimonic (e.g., prosocial decisions) and hedonic (e.g., selfish rewards and risky decisions) rewards differentially predicts longitudinal changes in depressive symptoms. Ventral striatum activation during eudaimonic decisions predicted longitudinal declines in depressive symptoms, whereas ventral striatum activation to hedonic decisions related to longitudinal increases in depressive symptoms. These findings underscore how the motivational context underlying neural sensitivity to rewards can differentially predict changes in well-being over time. Importantly, to our knowledge, this is the first study to show that striatal activation within an individual can be both a source of risk and protection.

Concepts: Psychology, Behavior, Motivation, Human behavior, Striatum, Happiness, Pleasure, Hedonism


Previous research on subclinical orgasmic difficulties among women has focused on intrapsychic and interpersonal variables, but little attention has been paid to the more distal ideological factors that might indirectly constrain sexual pleasure. We hypothesized that women’s endorsement of a benevolently sexist worldview would be negatively associated with orgasm frequency. Specifically, we predicted that benevolent sexism would be associated with increased perceptions of male sexual selfishness. This perception of men as interested in their own sexual pleasure would then predict decreased willingness to ask a partner for sexual pleasure, which in turn would be associated with less frequent orgasms. We found support for our model across two studies (Study 1: N = 339; Study 2: N = 323). We did not, however, find a direct effect of benevolent sexism on orgasm frequency. We discuss possible additional variables linking benevolent sexism with orgasm frequency, implications, and future directions.

Concepts: Psychology, Prediction, Gender, Sense, Orgasm, Sexual arousal, Sexism, Pleasure


The hedonic principle maintains that humans strive to maximize pleasant feelings and avoid unpleasant feelings. Surprisingly, and contrary to hedonic logic, previous experiments have demonstrated a relationship between picture viewing time and arousal (activation) but not with valence (pleasure vs. displeasure), suggesting that arousal rather than the hedonic principle accounts for how individuals choose to spend their time. In 2 experiments we investigated the arousal and hedonic principles underlying viewing time behavior while controlling for familiarity with stimuli, picture complexity, and demand characteristics. Under ad libitum conditions of picture viewing, we found strong relationships between viewing time, valence, and facial corrugator electomyographic (EMG) activity with familiar but not novel pictures. Viewing time of novel stimuli was largely associated with arousal and visual complexity. We conclude that only after initial information about the stimulus is gathered, where we choose to spend our time is guided by the hedonic principle. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2014 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Relationship, Concepts in ethics, Suffering, All rights reserved, Valence, Utilitarianism, Pleasure, Hedonism


Pain is mostly thought of as a problem-as debilitating or harmful. Despite its unpleasantness, however, under some conditions pain can be associated with positive consequences. In this review, we explore these positive biological, psychological, and social consequences of pain. We highlight three different domains in which pain may be considered to have positive consequences. First, pain facilitates pleasure by providing an important contrast for pleasurable experiences, increasing sensitivity to sensory input, and facilitating self-rewarding behavior. Second, pain augments self-regulation and enhancement by increasing cognitive control, reducing rumination, and demonstrating virtue. Third, pain promotes affiliation by arousing empathy from others, motivating social connection, and enhancing group formation. Drawing on evidence scattered across a range of academic fields, we provide for reflection on how pain is represented, generate insights into pain-seeking behavior, and draw attention to the role of painful experiences in maximizing positive outcomes.

Concepts: Psychology, Greek loanwords, Pain, Sensory system, Sense, Motivation, Suffering, Pleasure