Friday, 5 April 2013

Research roundup Spring 2013

This is the Spring 2013 research roundup from the Addiction research group, based in the Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool. We have been working our socks off since the last update, as you can see….

Latest research highlights

Abi Rose’s paper published in Addiction (Open Access) investigated the effects of alcohol devaluation on attentional bias for alcohol pictures and alcohol-seeking behaviour. Devaluing beer, by making it taste bitter, led to decreased alcohol-seeking (pressing a button to get beer) and it also reduced attentional bias for alcohol pictures.  Most importantly, the reduction in alcohol-seeking after devaluation was partially mediated by the reduction in attentional bias. While this doesn’t mean that attentional bias plays a causal role in drinking behaviour, it does suggest that attentional bias ‘tracks’ the subjective value of alcohol, which is consistent with most of the previous research on this topic.

 Joanne Dickson and colleagues published a study in Psychopharmacology (Open Access) which looked at implicit alcohol associations in alcohol dependent patients.  They found that alcohol dependent patients had weak negative implicit alcohol associations compared to non-dependent controls. Surprisingly the alcohol-dependent and control groups did not differ on positive implicit alcohol associations. Previous studies have shown that non-dependent drinkers have strong negative implicit alcohol associations, and this is the first study to examine these associations in people with alcohol dependence. Perhaps the weak negative alcohol associations in people with alcohol dependence means that they fail to develop automatic ‘brakes’ on their drinking behaviour as they experience the negative consequences of drinking

Finally, Matt Field collaborated with colleagues at the University of Sussex to examine the brain mechanisms involved when a small ‘priming’ dose of alcohol increases attentional bias to alcohol-related stimuli. In this paper, published in Neuropsychopharmacology (Open Access) participants were given either a placebo or a low or high dose of alcohol before completing an attentional bias task in an fMRI scanner. They found that participants who consumed a low dose of alcohol (0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight) demonstrated an increased attentional bias, and this effect was associated with increased activation in subcortical hypothalamic areas of the brain, regions that have previously been implicated in salience attribution and arousal. The participants that got the high alcohol dose showed similar performance and brain activation to the group that got placebo, which is consistent with previous behavioural studies. High doses of alcohol just don’t seem to influence attentional bias – we only see effects after fairly low doses.

Links to some other published work:

Other news

Welcome to Eric Robinson, who has joined the Department of Psychological Sciences to work on projects related to addiction and appetite / obesity. Eric wasted no time getting in the news to talk about his latest appetite research, and is already working on some addiction-related projects. In fact, if you are a University of Liverpool student, you can take part in his online study here.

Abi Rose and Paul Christiansen appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Word of Mouth’, discussing the effects of alcohol on speech. You can listen to the episode here. Abi also gave a public lecture about alcohol for Café Scientifique in December 2012. Matt Field appeared on Radio 5 live – extremely briefly – talking about a study that we covered in the last research roundup (press release here), and was subsequently on BBC Radio Merseyside talking about criminalization of heroin users.

Andy Jones, Paul Christiansen and Matt Field are now writing the occasional article for the Mental Elf, a website which offers non-technical summaries of mental health research for healthcare professionals. You can expect further contributions from other members of the group in the near future!  On a sort-of related note, Natasha Clarke is writing a blog about her experiences as an alcohol researcher. It’s much better than the one you are reading now, so you should take a look!

Lisa Di Lemma and Matt Field attended the 2013 Conference of Experimental Psychologists in Vienna where they both presented new data.

And finally….

….If you are based in Liverpool and are interested in taking part in one of our studies, you can email Andy Jones for information about studies that are running at the moment.

Thanks for reading! 

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