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Abstracts

  • doi pdf Strong seduction - Impulsivity and the impact of contextual cues on instrumental behavior in alcohol dependence
  • Sommer C, Garbusow M, Jünger E, Pooseh S, Bernhardt N, Birkenstock J, Schad D, Jabs B, Glöckler T, Huys QJM, Heinz A, and Smolka M and Zimmermann US
  • Translational Psychiatry (2017) 7, e1183
  • Alcohol-related cues acquire incentive salience through Pavlovian conditioning and then can markedly affect instrumental behavior of alcohol-dependent patients to promote relapse. However, it is unclear whether similar effects occur with alcohol-unrelated cues. We tested 116 early abstinent alcohol-dependent patients and 91 healthy controls who completed a delay discounting task to assess choice impulsivity, and a Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT) paradigm employing both alcohol-unrelated and alcohol-related stimuli. To modify instrumental choice behavior, we tiled the background of the computer screen either with conditioned stimuli (CS) previously generated by pairing abstract pictures with pictures indicating monetary gains or losses, or with pictures displaying alcohol or water beverages. CS paired to money gains and losses affected instrumental choices differently. This PIT effect was significantly more pronounced in patients compared to controls, and the group difference was mainly driven by highly impulsive patients. The PIT effect was particularly strong in trials in which the instrumental stimulus required inhibition of instrumental response behavior and the background CS was associated to monetary gains. Under that condition, patients performed inappropriate approach behavior, contrary to their previously formed behavioral intention. Surprisingly, the effect of alcohol and water pictures as background stimuli resembled that of aversive and appetitive CS, respectively. These findings suggest that positively valenced background CS can provoke dysfunctional instrumental approach behavior in impulsive alcohol-dependent patients. Consequently, in real life they might be easily seduced by environmental cues to engage in actions thwarting their long-term goals. Such behaviors may include, but are not limited to, approaching alcohol.