Desire is a sense of longing or hoping for a person, object, or outcome. The same sense is expressed by emotions such as "craving". When a person desires something or someone, their sense of longing is excited by the enjoyment or the thought of the item or person, and they want to take actions to obtain their goal. The motivational aspect of desire has long been noted by philosophers; Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) asserted that human desire is the fundamental motivation of all human action.

While desires are often classified as emotions by laypersons, psychologists often describe desires as different from emotions; psychologists tend to argue that desires arise from bodily structures, such as the stomach's need for food, whereas emotions arise from a person's mental state. Marketing and advertising companies have used psychological research on how desire is stimulated to find more effective ways to induce consumers into buying a given product or service. While some advertising attempts to give buyers a sense of lack or wanting, other types of advertising create desire associating the product with desirable attributes, by showing either a celebrity or a model with the product.

The theme of desire is at the core of romance novels, which often create drama by showing cases where human desire is impeded by social conventions, class, or cultural barriers. The theme of desire is also used in other literary genres, such as gothic novels (e.g., Dracula by Bram Stoker, in which desire is mingled with fear and dread). Poets ranging from Homer to Toni Morrison have dealt with the themes of desire in their work. Just as desire is central to the written fiction genre of romance, it is the central theme of melodrama films, which use plots that appeal to the heightened emotions of the audience by showing "crises of human emotion, failed romance or friendship", in which desire is thwarted or unrequited.

In philosophy

In philosophy, desire has been identified as a philosophical problem since Antiquity. In The Republic, Plato argues that individual desires must be postponed in the name of the higher ideal. In De Anima, Aristotle claims that desire is implicated in animal interactions and the propensity of animals to motion; at the same time, he acknowledges that reasoning also interacts with desire.

Hobbes (1588–1679) proposed the concept of psychological hedonism, which asserts that the "fundamental motivation of all human action is the desire for pleasure." Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) had a view which contrasted with Hobbes, in that "he saw natural desires as a form of bondage" that are not chosen by a person of their own free will. David Hume (1711–1776) claimed that desires and passions are noncognitive, automatic bodily responses, and he argued that reasoning is "capable only of devising means to ends set by [bodily] desire".

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) called any action based on desires a hypothetical imperative, meaning by this that it is a command of reason that applies only if one desires the goal in question.[2] Kant also established a relation between the beautiful and pleasure in Critique of Judgment. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel claimed that "self-consciousness is desire".

Because desire can cause humans to become obsessed and embittered, it has been called one of the causes of woe for mankind. Within the teachings of Buddhism, craving is thought to be the cause of all suffering that one experiences in human existence. The eradication of craving leads one to ultimate happiness, or Nirvana. However, desire for wholesome things is seen as liberating and enhancing. While the stream of desire for sense-pleasures must be cut eventually, a practitioner on the path to liberation is encouraged by the Buddha to "generate desire" for the fostering of skillful qualities and the abandoning of unskillful ones.[3]

In religion

In Hinduism, the Rig Veda's creation myth Nasadiya Sukta states regarding the one (ekam) spirit: "In the beginning there was Desire (kama) that was first seed of mind. Poets found the bond of being in non-being in their heart's thought".

In Buddhism, for an individual to effect his or her liberation, the flow of sense-desire must be cut completely; however, while training, he or she must work with motivational processes based on skilfully applied desire. According to the early Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha stated that monks should "generate desire" for the sake of fostering skillful qualities and abandoning unskillful ones.[3]

There is a double message here between what Buddha said, that desire must be created, and what some monks propose to their followers, that desire must be cut. Truth is Buddhism entails two aspects: the ideas monks taught to civilize peasantry, on the one hand, and the esoteric teachings of tantra (aimed at leaders) for self-realization, on the other, where —just as Buddha said— desire must be generated. Dr. Oscar R. Gómez holds that teachings imparted privately by H.H. 14th Dalai Lama are meant for leaders to be able to choose a specific desire consciously by creating it previously from the inside. People have a tendency to live based on desires coming from the outside, and such desires are the ones making choices for them. As an alternative, tantric Tibetan Buddhism allows to choose a desire consciously; to create desire rather than being created by it.[4]

Within Christianity, desire is seen as something that can either lead a person towards God and destiny or away from him. Desire is not considered to be a bad thing in and of itself; rather, it is a powerful force within the human that, once submitted to the Lordship of Christ, can become a tool for good, for advancement, and for abundant living.

Scientific perspectives


While desires are often classified as emotions by laypersons, psychologists often describe desires as different from emotions. For psychologists, desires arise from bodily structures and functions (e.g., the stomach needing food and the blood needing oxygen). On the other hand, emotions arise from a person's mental state. A 2008 study by the University of Michigan indicated that, while humans experience desire and fear as psychological opposites, they share the same brain circuit.[5] A 2008 study entitled "The Neural Correlates of Desire" showed that the human brain categorizes stimuli according to its desirability by activating three different brain areas: the superior orbitofrontal cortex, the mid-cingulate cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex.[6]

In affective neuroscience, "desire" and "wanting" are operationally defined as motivational salience;[9] the form of "desire" or "wanting" associated with a rewarding stimulus (i.e., a stimulus which acts as a positive reinforcer, such as palatable food, an attractive mate, or an addictive drug) is called "incentive salience" and research has demonstrated that incentive salience, the sensation of pleasure, and positive reinforcement are all derived from neuronal activity within the reward system.[9][11] Studies have shown that dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens shell and endogenous opioid signaling in the ventral pallidum are at least partially responsible for mediating an individual's desire (i.e., incentive salience) for a rewarding stimulus and the subjective perception of pleasure derived from experiencing or "consuming" a rewarding stimulus (e.g., pleasure derived from eating palatable food, sexual pleasure from intercourse with an attractive mate, or euphoria from using an addictive drug).[11][13][15][17] Research also shows that the orbitofrontal cortex has connections to both the opioid and dopamine systems, and stimulating this cortex is associated with subjective reports of pleasure.[19]


Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression and for creating the clinical practice of psychoanalysis, proposed the notion of the Oedipus Complex, which argues that desire for the mother creates neuroses in their sons. Freud used the Greek myth of Oedipus to argue that people desire incest and must repress that desire. He claimed that children pass through several stages, including a stage in which they fixate on the mother as a sexual object. That this "complex" is universal has long since been disputed. Even if it were true, that would not explain those neuroses in daughters, but only in sons. While it is true that sexual confusion can be aberrative in a few cases, there is no credible evidence to suggest that it is a universal scenario. While Freud was correct in labeling the various symptoms behind most compulsions, phobias and disorders, he was largely incorrect in his theories regarding the etiology of what he identified.

French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) argues that desire first occurs during a "mirror phase" of a baby's development, when the baby sees an image of wholeness in a mirror which gives them a desire for that being. As a person matures, Lacan claims that they still feel separated from themselves by language, which is incomplete, and so a person continually strives to become whole. He uses the term "jouissance" to refer to the lost object or feeling of absence which a person believes to be unobtainable. For more details on the Lacanian conception of desire, see desire (psychoanalysis)

In marketing

Desire, in its simplest form, is a strong feeling of wanting to have something ( n.d.). In the context of marketing, desire is a consumer’s affective response to the acknowledged or remembered presence of a need; this need recognition is usually induced by a marketing message, communicated to the consumer by marketers (Dahlen, Lange & Smith, 2010). To understand this concept in more depth, it is helpful to first consider how desire fits into the marketing communications process; marketers call this process the linear model of communication.

As contended in Belch & Belch (2008), the linear model of communication is a basic dissection of the participants, communication tools, communication functions, processes and dysfunctions that constitute the marketing communications process. The two major participants in this process are the sender and receiver; respectively, the marketer and the consumer (Belch & Belch, 2008). The communication tools in this model are the marketers’ message to the consumer and the media vehicle (also known as the channel) in which the message is sent (Belch & Belch, 2008). The marketing communication process itself begins with communication functions; at this stage of the process, encoding occurs (Belch & Belch, 2008).

Belch & Belch (2008) assert that the sender uses their field of reference to convert data into information that can be understood by the receiver. Data are streams of raw facts that have not yet been put into context; whereas, information is the form that data takes once it has been organised into a structure that is meaningful to the user (Laudon & Laudon, 2013). To make the information meaningful to the consumer, the marketer encodes the message with appealing words, numbers, shapes, colours, sounds and perhaps even smells and tastes (Belch & Belch, 2008). The information is reformatted to catch the consumer’s attention while still suiting whichever media vehicle in which it is being sent. For example, Belch & Belch (2008) argue that if the channel is a newspaper advertisement, the marketer will use words, numbers, shapes, images and sometimes colour to encode the message. From here the sender releases the encoded message into the channel and awaits a response from the consumer. Upon receipt, the second communication function is started. This is where the receiver begins decoding the message using their own field of reference (Dahlen et al., 2010).

The consumer uses their life experiences, perceptions, attitudes, values and knowledge to understand the message they have received (Belch & Belch, 2008). It is paramount to the effectiveness of the communication that the message is encoded with information that the receiver has the ability to decode. If the encoding process of the sender does not align with the decoding process of the receiver, the message will not be understood and is therefore likely to be ignored (Hoyer, MacInnis, & Pieter, 2012). Once the consumer has decoded the marketer’s message, the sub process of consumer response begins.

Belch & Belch (2008) maintained that in response to the message, depending on levels of communication dysfunction such as noise and distortion, the consumer will first process the message cognitively by paying attention to it. If levels of noise and distortion are too high, the consumer will ignore the message (Hoyer et al., 2012). Belch & Belch (2008) advise that given that the consumer does pay attention to the message, the response process will move into the affective stage. This is where the message captures the consumer’s interest, from here the consumer may develop a desire for the subject of the message; namely the offering being advertised for acquisition and consumption (Belch & Belch, 2008). Following desire is the behavioural stage of response. This is the stage in which the consumer acts on the emotions birthed in the previous stage. Developed by E. K. Strong Jr. in 1925 (as cited in Belch & Belch, 2008), this sub process of the linear communication model is known as the AIDA Response model. Once the consumer’s response process is complete the linear communication model moves into its final process, feedback. This message is sent back to the sender from the receiver and comes in various forms that include but are not limited to word of mouth, warranty claims, comments on social media and telephone calls (Belch & Belch). This concludes the linear communications model. Upon acknowledging the place desire holds in the context of marketing, factors that influence desire can now be considered to broaden understanding of the concept.

The way in which a consumer communicates with their peers is called personal communication ( n.d.); from the perspective of the consumer, in regards to acquiring, consuming and disposing behaviour, this is the most credible source of information (Dahlen et al., 2010). For this reason, mind shapers, social influence in particular, hold a strong association with what a consumer is interested in and thusly, what a consumer desires. Social influence is pivotal to the offerings a consumer desires because as human beings, consumers are social creatures and have social needs (Hoyer et al., 2012). This idea is espoused in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (as cited in Hoyer et al., 2012) in the psychological social level of needs; here it is asserted by Maslow (cited in Hoyer et al., 2012) that all humans have a psychological social need for relationships, acceptance and love. Consumers seek to satiate this need by acquiring offerings that are in line with what their peers consider socially acceptable (Hoyer et al., 2012). Ergo, it is in line with this need to fit in that marketers seek to catch consumers’ attention, interest and desire through marketing messages that offer one liners such as “join the club!” and “don’t miss out” (Marcom Projects, 2007). Although social needs are not the only human need satisfied by acquiring and consuming market offerings, from here it is conceivable that consumers desire offerings, advertised in marketing messages as a means to satisfy their social need for love and acceptance. It can also be gleaned that this need to fit in can also be considered as a fear: Put forward in Effie Worldwide (2015), a fear of missing out on what others do or own is also known in the marketing industry as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). This concept is also a social influence that shapes consumers’ minds and rationalises desire.


Ang, L. (2014). Principles of Integrated Marketing Communications. New York City, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bailey, P. (2015). Marketing to the senses: A multisensory strategy to align the brand touchpoints. Retrieved December 8, 2015 from WARC:

Belch, G. E., & Belch, M. A. (2012). Advertising and promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective (9th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin. (n.d.). Corporate identity. Retrieved March 18, 2016, from (n.d.). Personal communication. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from

Dahlen, M., Lange, F., & Smith, T. (2010). Marketing communications: A brand narrative approach. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons. (n.d.). Disire. Retrieved March 17, 2016, from

Effie Worldwide. (2015). LifeBeat: Know your status stage. Retrieved December 8, 2015 from WARC:

Hoyer, W.D., MacInnis, D.J., & Pieters, R. (2012). Consumer behavior (6th ed.). Mason, OH: Cenage Learning.

Laudon, K.C., & Laudon, J.P. (2013). Essentials of management information systems (10th ed.). Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Laurie, S., & Mortimer, K. (2011). ‘IMC is dead. Long live IMC’: Academics' versus practitioners' views. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(13-14),1464-1478.

Marcom Projects (2007). Persuasion in everyday life. Retrieved from Kanopy:

Marketing Minds. (2015). Apple brand architecture. Retrieved March 18, 2016 from

In fiction, film, and art


The theme of desire is at the core of the romance novel. Novels which are based around the theme of desire, which can range from a long aching feeling to an unstoppable torrent, include Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert; Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the sensual, yet controversial novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, and Dracula by Bram Stoker. Brontë's characterization of Jane Eyre depicts her as torn by an inner conflict between reason and desire, because "customs" and "conventionalities" stand in the way of her romantic desires. E.M. Forster's novels use homoerotic codes to describe same-sex desire and longing. Close male friendships with subtle homoerotic undercurrents occur in every novel, which subverts the conventional, heterosexual plot of the novels. In the gothic-themed Dracula, Stoker depicts the theme of desire which is coupled with fear. When the Lucy character is seduced by Dracula, she describes her sensations in the graveyard as a mixture of fear and blissful emotion.

Poet W.B. Yeats depicts the positive and negative aspects of desire in his poems such as "The Rose for the World", "Adam's Curse", "No Second Troy", "All Things can Tempt me", and "Meditations in Time of Civil War". Some poems depict desire as a poison for the soul; Yeats worked through his desire for his beloved, Maud Gonne, and realized that "Our longing, our craving, our thirsting for something other than Reality is what dissatisfies us". In "The Rose for the World", he admires her beauty, but feels pain because he cannot be with her. In the poem "No Second Troy", Yeats overflows with anger and bitterness because of their unrequited love.[2] Poet T. S. Eliot dealt with the themes of desire and homoeroticism in his poetry, prose and drama.[2] Other poems on the theme of desire include John Donne's poem "To His Mistress Going to Bed", Carol Ann Duffy's longings in "Warming Her Pearls"; Ted Hughes' "Lovesong" about the savage intensity of desire; and Wendy Cope's humorous poem "Song".

Philippe Borgeaud's novels analyse how emotions such as erotic desire and seduction are connected to fear and wrath by examining cases where people are worried about issues of impurity, sin, and shame.


Just as desire is central to the written fiction genre of romance, it is the central theme of melodrama films, which are a subgenre of the drama film. Like drama, a melodrama depends mostly on in-depth character development, interaction, and highly emotional themes. Melodramatic films tend to use plots that appeal to the heightened emotions of the audience. Melodramatic plots often deal with "crises of human emotion, failed romance or friendship, strained familial situations, tragedy, illness, neuroses, or emotional and physical hardship." Film critics sometimes use the term "pejoratively to connote an unrealistic, bathos-filled, campy tale of romance or domestic situations with stereotypical characters (often including a central female character) that would directly appeal to feminine audiences."[2] Also called "women's movies", "weepies", tearjerkers, or "chick flicks".

"Melodrama… is Hollywood's fairly consistent way of treating desire and subject identity", as can be seen in well-known films such as Gone with the Wind, in which "desire is the driving force for both Scarlett and the hero, Rhett". Scarlett desires love, money, the attention of men, and the vision of being a virtuous "true lady". Rhett Butler desires to be with Scarlett, which builds to a burning longing that is ultimately his undoing, because Scarlett keeps refuses his advances; when she finally confesses her secret desire, Rhett is worn out and his longing is spent.[2]

In Cathy Cupitt's article on "Desire and Vision in Blade Runner", she argues that film, as a "visual narrative form, plays with the voyeuristic desires of its audience". Focusing on the dystopian 1980s science fiction film Blade Runner, she calls the film an "Object of Visual Desire", in which it plays to an "expectation of an audience's delight in visual texture, with the 'retro-fitted' spectacle of the post-modern city to ogle" and with the use of the "motif of the 'eye'". In the film, "desire is a key motivating influence on the narrative of the film, both in the 'real world', and within the text."[2]

Contemporary spiritual perspective

Barry Long defined desire as stress or strain. It is a tension between an individual and the thing or state that that individual desires. As the thing does not feel this stress, the desiring is a one-way tension within the individual, an apparent reaching out towards the desired object or person.

When the person responds in the way desired, or the object is attained, the desire settles down into a relationship. A relationship is identifiable by the presence of an attitude in yourself which reacts in terms of "mine".

When a desire has been reduced to the level of a habit or idea it can be dealt with and eliminated fairly quickly by observation - seeing it for what it is. In that moment you suddenly realise you are free of the relationship as a need or dependence "of mine".[2]