Reward dependence refers to a preference for receiving social-based rewards for your actions. People who are reward dependent are friendly, warm, and have a need for the approval of others in society. People who have low levels of reward dependence tend to be more cold, distant, and practical.

Social-based rewards include things like praise and acknowledgement or appreciation from other people. People with high reward dependence tendencies may worry about what peers think of them.

Reward dependence in an idea set forth by psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger. Cloninger theorized that your personality is a combination of your temperament and your character traits. He further hypothesized that temperament is genetic and correlates to the levels of certain neurotransmitters in your brain.

Reward dependence is one of the dimensions of temperament in Cloninger’s theory. Harm avoidance, persistence, and novelty seeking are the other two dimensions Cloninger used to divide temperament traits into categories.

Addiction Reward System

Over the years, studies have indicated that Cloninger could be correct about his theories. Some studies have indicated that there may be, in fact, a genetic “reward pathway” that predisposes those with high reward dependence characteristics to addictive behaviors, or depression.

Other studies don’t show such a clear-cut relationship.

However, the thought that mental health disorders could be explained by neurotransmitter activity is an attractive one. And many psychiatrists continue to explore the relationship between brain chemicals, depression, and addiction.

In fact, the theory of reward deficiency syndrome has been extrapolated from Cloninger’s work. Reward deficiency syndrome posits that a lowered dopamine response could play a role in the development of addiction.

Ultimately, mental health and addiction are multi-layered and complex diseases that science is still trying to understand.