The utility of a latent-cause framework for understanding addiction phenomena

Sashank Pisupati, Angela J. Langdon, Anna B. Konova, Yael Niv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Computational models of addiction often rely on a model-free reinforcement learning (RL) formulation, owing to the close associations between model-free RL, habitual behavior and the dopaminergic system. However, such formulations typically do not capture key recurrent features of addiction phenomena such as craving and relapse. Moreover, they cannot account for goal-directed aspects of addiction that necessitate contrasting, model-based formulations. Here we synthesize a growing body of evidence and propose that a latent-cause framework can help unify our understanding of several recurrent phenomena in addiction, by viewing them as the inferred return of previous, persistent “latent causes”. We demonstrate that applying this framework to Pavlovian and instrumental settings can help account for defining features of craving and relapse such as outcome-specificity, generalization, and cyclical dynamics. Finally, we argue that this framework can bridge model-free and model-based formulations, and account for individual variability in phenomenology by accommodating the memories, beliefs, and goals of those living with addiction, motivating a centering of the individual, subjective experience of addiction and recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100143
JournalAddiction Neuroscience
StatePublished - Mar 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)


  • Addiction
  • Craving
  • Latent-cause inference
  • Relapse


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