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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Improving control over the impulse for reward: Sensitivity of harmful alcohol drinkers to delayed reward but not immediate punishment

Cognitive control dysfunction has been identified in dependent alcohol users and implicated in the transition from abuse to dependence, although evidence of dyscontrol in chronic but non-dependent ‘harmful’ alcohol abusers is mixed.

The current study examined harmful alcohol users response inhibition over rewarding stimuli in the presence of monetary reward and punishment, to determine whether changes in sensitivity to these factors, noted in imaging studies of dependent users, influences impulse control.

Harmful (n = 30) and non-hazardous (n = 55) alcohol users were administered a Monetary Incentive Go/No-go task that required participants to inhibit a prepotent motor response associated with reward.

Harmful alcohol users showed a significantly poorer ability to withhold their impulse for a rewarding stimulus in the presence of immediate monetary punishment for failure, while retaining equivalent response inhibition performance under neutral conditions (associated with neither monetary loss or gain), and significantly better performance under delayed reward conditions.

The results of the present study suggest that non-dependent alcohol abusers have altered sensitivity to reward and punishment that influences their impulse control for reward, in the absence of gross dyscontrol that is consistent with past findings in which such performance contingencies were not used. The ability of delayed monetary reward, but not punishment, to increase sustained impulse control in this sample has implications for the mechanism that might underlie the transition from alcohol abuse to dependence, as well as intervention strategies aimed at preventing this transition.

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