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Alcohol Seeking and Consumption: The Role of Reward Valuation and Attentional Bias

  • Start date: 25 April 2011
  • End date: 24 August 2012

Background: Clinical observation suggests that excessive drinking may occur due to a greater preference for alcohol over other rewards, reduced consideration of alcohol's possible negative consequences when deciding to drink, and a greater sensitivity to initial 'priming' drinks which can promote binge drinking.

Aims: To model these three features of hazardous drinking in the laboratory.

Method: Drinkers will complete a concurrent choice task in which they can earn favourite alcoholic drinks versus favourite non-alcoholic drinks. Previous work with humans and animals has shown that preference for the drug in such choice tests is strongly associated with individual differences in dependence. As such, hazardous drinkers may show greater alcohol preference in this test. Moreover, the alcohol choice of hazardous drinkers should be resistant to reduction by information about the negative consequences of drinking, and more sensitive to a priming dose of alcohol.

Conclusions: These findings would suggest that hazardous drinking is caused by an abnormal value ascribed to alcohol when making a choice to drink. By establishing a laboratory model of the influences affecting drinking decisions, the research will result in a better understanding of the psychological basis of hazardous drinking and may improve the effectiveness of interventions for this disorder.