Incentive salience is a form of motivation for reward that is triggered by environmental cues. These come to be ‘wanted’: they create an urge or craving for approach and consumption that influences choice and guides action. Stimuli imbued with incentive salience are thought to become salient, attention-drawing, and impossible to ignore, and a leading theory of addiction proposes that drug stimulation of the brain’s reward system may create intense and abnormal incentive salience for drug-related stimuli. Consistent with this, work with animals has linked incentive salience to signaling in mesocorticolimbic brain systems, and the release of nigrostriatal dopamine in particular. But direct investigation of incentive salience in human cognition is sparse, and the application of ideas from animal research to our understanding of human incentive salience has led to pervasive ambiguity and misunderstanding. The objective of INSENSE is therefore to use cutting-edge tools from cognitive neuroscience to a.) characterize the computational and neural substrates of human incentive salience, and b.) determine how failures in these systems underlie addictive human behaviour. This is accomplished through the combined use of techniques like transcranial electrical stimulation, psychopharmacology, electroencephalogram, multivariate pattern analysis of functional magnetic resonance data, and computational modelling in order to index, characterize, and manipulate the neural representation of naturalistic reward-associated stimuli.
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