Welcome to the latest research roundup from the Addiction Research Group based in the Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool. Summer has come and gone, but don’t let it dampen your spirits because here is our quarterly feast of science for your enjoyment!
Top billing goes to Inge Kersbergen and Matt Field who published a paper in Psychology of Addictive Behaviours examining the validity of different measures of automatic alcohol action tendencies. The aim of this study was to compare different tasks that measure automatic alcohol-approach biases on their ability to predict individual differences in drinking behaviour. The results demonstrated that only the tasks in which participants had to respond to the pictures based on their content (alcohol or control) rather than an irrelevant feature (picture orientation) were significant predictors of drinking behaviour. On the relevant-feature tasks, faster approach responses to alcohol pictures were related to higher levels of risky drinking and alcohol consumption. This study was the first to compare these different types of tasks and it has important implications for the development of approach bias modification training in clinical populations.
A second paper, by Eric Robinson and colleagues published in Appetite set out to examine how a laboratory environment influences how much food people eat. In particular, we wanted to know whether people eat less when they believe that a researcher is going to record and monitor their food consumption. We sampled a group of young females and found that participants ate less food when they felt as though their behaviour was being monitored. We think this study raises an important question about how we should study eating behaviour. Although getting participants into a lab can help us to control external influences and observe exactly what they do, this might come at the cost of affecting and changing the very behaviour we are trying to study. We will be following this study up over the next few months and should have more answers soon!
Samantha Baker (a clinical psychology trainee), Joanne Dickson and Matt Field published a paper in BMC Psychology examining whether implicit priming of approach or avoidance motivational orientations influenced the opposing orientation. In a group of non-dependent drinkers subliminal word primes were presented during trials of visual probe and stimulus-response compatibility tasks. These primes were alcohol-appetitive (e.g Party), alcohol-aversive (e.g. nausea) or neutral (e.g. bookshelf). Contrary to expectations, we found no effects of masked priming of motivational orientations on attentional bias for alcohol cues, or on automatic approach and avoidance tendencies evoked by those cues. These results tentatively suggest that automatic alcohol cognitions cannot be influenced by subliminal priming.
Matt Field, Andy Jones, and Abi Rose contributed to a series of experiments published in Behaviour Research and Therapy that identified an important role for propositional knowledge in responses to drug cues, including Pavlovian to Instrumental transfer effects (these effects were covered in an earlier blog).
Finally, we published our first ever study protocol in BMC Public Health, describing the procedure and analysis plans for an ongoing controlled trial on web-based inhibition training for problem drinkers. This study is the first to examine repeated inhibition-training for the reduction of problem drinking in community samples. We believe that publishing these protocols is important as it encourages transparency when reporting results from large scale research studies.
We have been on our travels again, disseminating our research around the UK (and beyond)!
Andy and Matt travelled to Stirling in May, for an ESRC workshop aimed at increasing the richness and frequency of social science survey data. Andy discussed the use of smartphones to administer cognitive tasks.
A whole gang of PhD students and early career researchers travelled to Leeds in June for an early career event organised by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS). This was followed by a Public Health Research Centres of Excellence Conference, in which both Inge Kersbergen and Eric Robinson gave presentations on their research conducted at Liverpool.
We also attended the British Association for Psychopharmacology meeting and a satellite symposium organised by the International Society for Research on Impulsivity in Cambridge in June. At the meeting Andy Jones received the Junior BAP/Cambridge Cognition award for his research. Well done to him!
Matt Field gave a keynote lecture at the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapy entitled ‘Cognitive processes in addiction: new directions and clinical implications’. Together with Frank Ryan (Imperial College London), he also ran a pre-conference workshop for therapists on ‘Thinking the way out of addiction’.
Finally, Matt and Andy attended the 5th Thematic Meeting on Addiction in Utrecht, Netherlands. Matt discussed the Effects of inhibition training on alcohol intake in problem drinkers.
We have contributed articles for the Mental Elf about cytisine and varenicline for smoking cessation, internet-based drug prevention, and mobile apps for recovering alcoholics. Natasha Clarke has also written some excellent blogs spanning world cup alcohol advertising to ‘nudge’ interventions.
There have also been some comings and goings in our research group.
Three new PhD students have joined our group: Graeme Knibb, Panos Spanakis and Mrunal Bandawar. Finally, we say goodbye and good luck to Elly McGrath who left her research position with us to begin her PhD at Manchester.