This is the first research roundup from the Addiction research group – hopefully the first of many. We are based in the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Liverpool.
Latest research highlights:
We have been busy over the past few months, including some new work on cognitive biases in heavy drinkers. First, Andy Jones has published a paper in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology showing that anticipation of either alcohol or chocolate reward leads to a generalised increase in attentional bias for pictures of both alcohol and chocolate. This builds on previous work showing that anticipation of a specific reward can increase attentional bias for pictures related to that reward, but this new study raises some interesting questions. For example, it suggests that anticipation of reward might be associated with a generalised increase in arousal and an associated increase in the salience of ‘interesting’ stimuli in the environment, rather than a very specific biasing of attention toward the pictures of the goodies that we think we are going to get. We are planning a few studies to follow-this up.
Also published recently, we have two papers exploring the effects of acute alcohol on attentional biases and automatic approach tendencies. Firstly, Gordon Fernie (now at University of Aberdeen) has shown that moderate social drinkers show an increase in attentional bias after receiving a fairly low dose of alcohol. In heavy drinkers, attentional bias is unaffected by alcohol, for which there are a number of plausible explanations. For example, heavy drinkers might simply be tolerant to these effects of alcohol, or maybe attentional bias occurs automatically in heavy drinkers, and so is insensitive to the increased value of alcohol following a priming drink. Paul Christiansen’s paper is a nice unpacking of the placebo effect in relation to cognitive biases. In this study, participants received either alcohol, placebo (which they believed was alcoholic) or a control drink before completing a measure of automatic approach tendencies elicited by alcohol-related pictures. He found that automatic approach tendencies were stronger after both alcohol and placebo compared to the control drink, but alcohol and placebo did not differ from each other. So, this looks like some effects of alcohol are indeed ‘all in the mind’ – and probably explains why some previous studies found no difference between alcohol and placebo.
Other recent (since January 2012) published research findings:
- Automatic approach tendencies and impulsivity tasks are unique predictors of individual differences in heavy drinking
- Automatic approach tendencies in abstinent alcoholics are stronger in those who drank more before entering treatment
- If you believe that you have good self-control,you are more likely to drink too much alcohol.
- ‘Ego depletion’ (trying to control yourself) makes you drink too much alcohol.
- A broad overview of research on alcohol-related brain damage.
- Study Protocol for the ACTAD (Assertive Community Treatment for Alcohol Dependence) Trial
- Why might attentional bias tasks be unreliable?
Please email Prof. Matt Field (email@example.com) for reprints.
Congratulations to Paul Christiansen and Kyle Brown, who are now Drs Christiansen and Brown respectively having been awarded their PhDs this summer. Welcome to Lisa Di Lemma, who has joined us as a research assistant on a Wellcome Trust project exploring motivational ambivalence in alcohol abuse.
Thanks for reading! We are always on the lookout for good research collaborators and potential PhD students - please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Look out for the next research roundup in the Autumn.