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The traps of adaptation: Addiction as maladaptive referent-dependent evaluation

Rigoli, F. ORCID: 0000-0003-2233-934X & Pezzulo, G. (2023). The traps of adaptation: Addiction as maladaptive referent-dependent evaluation. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 23(4), pp. 973-985. doi: 10.3758/s13415-023-01086-4


Referent-dependent evaluation theories propose that the ongoing context influences how the brain attributes value to stimuli. What are the implications of these theories for understanding addiction? The paper asks this question by casting this disorder as a form of maladaptive referent-dependent evaluation. Specifically, addiction is proposed to arise from the establishment of an excessive reference point following repeated drug consumption. Several key aspects of the disorder emerge from this perspective, including withdrawal, tolerance, enhanced craving, negative mood, and diminished stimulus discriminability. As highlighted in the paper, this formulation has important analogies with classical accounts of addiction, such as set point theories and associative learning theories. Moreover, this picture fits with the pattern of striatal dopaminergic activity observed in addiction, a key neural signature of the disorder. Overall, the referent-dependent evaluation approach emerges as a useful add-on to the theoretical toolkit adopted to interpret addiction. This also supports the idea that referent-dependent evaluation might offer a general framework to understand various disorders characterised by disrupted motivation.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Addiction, Referent dependent, Evaluation, Reference point, Context
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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