Preference Conditioning in Healthy Individuals: Correlates With Hazardous Drinking
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BACKGROUND: Conditioned reward is a classic measure of drug-induced brain changes in animal models of addiction. The process can be examined in humans using the Conditioned Pattern Preference (CPP) task, in which participants associate nonverbal cues with reward but demonstrate low awareness of this conditioning. Previously, we reported that alcohol intoxication does not affect CPP acquisition in humans, but our data indicated that prior drug use may impact conditioning scores. METHODS: To test this possibility, the current study examined the relationship between self-reported alcohol use and preference conditioning in the CPP task. Working memory was assessed during conditioning by asking participants to count the cues that appeared at each location on a computer screen. Participants (69 female and 23 male undergraduate students) completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index (RAPI) as measures of hazardous drinking. RESULTS: Self-reported hazardous drinking was significantly correlated with preference conditioning in that individuals who scored higher on these scales exhibited an increased preference for the reward-paired cues. In contrast, hazardous drinking did not affect working memory errors on the CPP task. CONCLUSIONS: These findings support evidence that repeated drug use sensitizes neural pathways mediating conditioned reward and point to a neurocognitive disposition linking substance misuse and responses to reward-paired stimuli. The relationship between hazardous drinking and conditioned reward is independent of changes in cognitive function, such as working memory.
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