Monday, 26 November 2012

Research roundup November 2012

This is the Autumn 2012 research roundup from the Addiction research group. We are based in the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Liverpool.

Latest research highlights:

            Top billing goes to Kyle Brown, who has published a study in Addiction showing that graphic images (e.g., diseased lungs) on cigarette packets can capture the attention of cigarette smokers, but only when the pictures are presented alongside written health warnings (e.g., ‘SMOKING KILLS’). This study builds on previous studies that have investigated attention to health warnings on cigarettes. The present results are important because they suggest that graphic images do have an impact on smokers, but they must be presented alongside written warnings in order to have the biggest effect.

            Abi Rose’s paper in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research sheds some light on the alcohol ‘priming’ effect. We know that consumption of one or two alcoholic drinks can increase the desire to drink more, as anybody who has found themselves staying in the pub for ‘just one more’ on a weekday evening can confirm. In this paper, the research team investigated whether alcohol priming occurred because of the pharmacological effects of alcohol, or because of beliefs about the effects of alcohol (expectancies), and whether the relative importance of pharmacological versus expectancy effects would shift depending on how many drinks had been consumed. The results showed that the pharmacological effects of alcohol were more important determinants of alcohol priming after consumption of the first few drinks, but expectancy effects became more important as more drinks were consumed. The study highlights how both the ‘imagined’ and the pharmacological effects of alcohol play important roles in the alcohol priming effect.

            Andy Jones’ latest study, published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, investigated whether heavy drinkers could be trained to inhibit their behaviour in the presence of alcohol-related pictures, and if this ‘inhibition training’ would lead to a reduction in their alcohol consumption. Participants performed a computer task in which they had to categorise alcohol-related and neutral pictures by pressing keys as quickly as they could. On some trials, a tone was played while participants were preparing to respond and this served as a signal to ‘stop’, or inhibit responding. In one group of people, the tone consistently appeared at the same time as alcohol pictures: the intention was to train these people to inhibit their responding whenever they saw an alcohol picture.  In control groups, the tone was not paired with the alcohol pictures. Immediately after participants had completed the task, they were able to drink some beer. The results showed that participants who had been trained to inhibit their behaviour in the presence of alcohol cues showed reduced beer consumption in the laboratory, compared to the control groups. It is possible that multiple sessions of this type of inhibition training might help people to reduce their drinking, if they are motivated to cut down. We have recently been awarded a grant from the Medical Research Council that will fund additional follow-up studies.

            Finally, Matt Field and his colleagues at the University of Southampton studied attentional biases in alcohol-dependent patients, in a paper published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.  In this study, patients showed attentional bias for alcohol cues, but only if their craving was high at the time of testing. In fact, if their craving was low, they looked away from alcohol cues (attentional avoidance). This study clarifies our understanding of the relationship between craving and attentional bias among patients in treatment, and it helps to explain why patients in treatment seem to avoid looking at alcohol-related cues.

Please email Prof. Matt Field ( for reprints.

A bumper crop of other news

Dissemination of research can be a thankless task, involving long flights to far-flung places. Abi Rose and Matt Field travelled to Sapporo, Japan for the 2012 meeting of the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism, where they both chaired symposia and presented new data.

Andy Jones and Matt Field contributed a ‘pop science’ article on the link between cannabis use and depression for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust newsletter, available here.

Abi Rose will give a public lecture for Café Scientifique, where she will discuss ‘One is alright, two is too many, three is not enough. Understanding why we drink the way we do’. The event is free, you just turn up on the night. Hope Street Hotel, Hope Street, Liverpool, Tuesday 11th December from 7:30pm.

Paul Christiansen and Abi Rose will be talking about the effects of alcohol on language on Radio 4’s ‘Word of Mouth’ programme – to be aired on 18th December. 

We are pleased to welcome Pawel Jedras, who was awarded a PhD studentship from the University of Liverpool to study the effects of reward anticipation on attentional biases for motivational stimuli.

Finally, we say goodbye and good luck to Kyle Brown whose research funding at Liverpool has finished. Kyle will soon start a new postdoc position in Cambridge.

Thanks for reading! We are always on the lookout for good research collaborators and potential PhD students  - please contact me (

Look out for the next research roundup in 2013. 

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