The authors argue that human desire involves conscious cognition that has strong affective
connotation and is potentially involved in the determination of appetitive behavior
rather than being epiphenomenal to it. Intrusive thoughts about appetitive targets
are triggered automatically by external or physiological cues and by cognitive associates.
When intrusions elicit significant pleasure or relief, cognitive elaboration usually
ensues. Elaboration competes with concurrent cognitive tasks through retrieval of
target-related information and its retention in working memory. Sensory images are
especially important products of intrusion and elaboration because they simulate the
sensory and emotional qualities of target acquisition. Desire images are momentarily
rewarding but amplify awareness of somatic and emotional deficits. Effects of desires
on behavior are moderated by competing incentives, target availability, and skills.
The theory provides a coherent account of existing data and suggests new directions
for research and treatment.