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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Impaired Generalization of Associative Learning in Patients with Alcohol Dependence After Intermediate-term Abstinence

We used an associative learning task in order to investigate cognitive dysfunctions in alcohol dependence. This test is suitable for the assessment of stimulus–response learning and memory generalization (acquired equivalence), which is related to medial temporal lobe functioning.

Twenty patients with alcohol dependence (abstinence: >6 months) and 20 matched healthy controls participated in the study. In the task, antecedent stimuli were cartoon faces (girl, boy, man and woman) and consequent stimuli were color cartoon fishes. The task was to learn face–fish associations using feedback. In the transfer phase, the fish–face pairs were generalized to new associations.

There was no significant difference between patients and controls during the acquisition phase of fish–face associations. In the transfer phase, patients were impaired relative to controls. We found no association between task performance and intelligence quotient.

These results suggest that abstinent patients with alcohol dependence show marked dysfunctions in the generalization of associations, which may indicate the dysfunction of the medial temporal lobe.

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