Incentive Sensitization Theory

Incentive sensitization theory, proposed by Terry Robinson and Kent Berridge in 1993 (Robinson and Berridge, 1993), states that drug craving and desire results from an incentive, but not from pleasure (Deckers, 2010).  Through repetition of drug use, the brain of an addict becomes sensitized to drug stimuli (Deckers, 2010) causing an increase of the probability of repeating use  as well as the seeking and taking behaviors associated with addiction (Robinson, 1993), but not the hedonic value of drugs (Deckers, 2010).  The theory is a model of neuroadaptation in which the nervous system adapts behaviorally and neurochemically (Deckers, 2010).


There are six criteria that must be met inorder for addiction to fall under Incentive sensitization theory.


  1. There must be a common neural system affected by many addictive drugs in which dopamine transmitters are enhanced and engaged (Robinson, 1993).
  2. The nervous system should become hypersensitive, by gradually developing psychological addictive behaviors (Robinson, 1993).
  3. Neuroadaptation caused by the use of drugs last a long period time after use of drugs had stopped (Robinson, 1993)
  4. Neuroadapatations should be susceptible to environmental control allowing addict to be susceptible to relapse of addiction (Robinson, 1993).
  5. Pathological craving should warrant incentive motivational effects of drugs and their stimuli while the neuroadaptations should increase the motivational effects (Robinson, 1993).
  6. An addict should experience the persistence of addictive behavior despite the negative outcomes, but should not enjoy the hedonic effect, but only the incentive effect (Robinson, 1993).







Deckers, L. (2010). Motivation: Biological, psychological, and environmental (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon

Robinson, T. E., & Berridge, K. C. (1993, April). The neural basis of drug craving: an incentive-sensitisation theory of addiction. Brain Research Reviews, 1993(18), 247-291. Retrieved from http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/30601/0000238.pdf?sequence=1


Image 1 retrieved from:  http://blogs.plos.org/mindthebrain/files/2012/12/pill-bottle.jpeg

Image 2 retrieved from:  http://focus.psychiatryonline.org/data/Journals/FOCUS/4266/foc0011123340001.jpeg



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