This study tested the effects of a new cognitive-bias modification (CBM) intervention that targeted an approach bias for alcohol in 214 alcoholic inpatients. Patients were assigned to one of two experimental conditions, in which they were explicitly or implicitly trained to make avoidance movements (pushing a joystick) in response to alcohol pictures, or to one of two control conditions, in which they received no training or sham training. Four brief sessions of experimental CBM preceded regular inpatient treatment. In the experimental conditions only, patients' approach bias changed into an avoidance bias for alcohol. This effect generalized to untrained pictures in the task used in the CBM and to an Implicit Association Test, in which alcohol and soft-drink words were categorized with approach and avoidance words. Patients in the experimental conditions showed better treatment outcomes a year later. These findings indicate that a short intervention can change alcoholics' automatic approach bias for alcohol and may improve treatment outcome.
Implicit and explicit alcohol-related cognitions were measured in 2 dimensions: positive-negative (valence) and arousal-sedation, with 2 versions of the Implicit Association Test (IAT; A. G. Greenwald, D. E. McGhee, & J. L. Schwartz) and related explicit measures. Heavy drinkers (n ϭ 24) strongly associated alcohol with arousal on the arousal IAT (especially men) and scored higher on explicit arousal expectancies than light drinkers (n ϭ 24). On the valence IAT, both light and heavy drinkers showed strong negative implicit associations with alcohol that contrasted with their positive explicit judgments (heavy drinkers were more positive). Implicit and explicit cognitions uniquely contributed to the prediction of 1-month prospective drinking. Heavy drinkers' implicit arousal associations could reflect the sensitized psychomotor-activating response to drug cues, a motivational mechanism hypothesized to underlie the etiology of addictive behaviors.
Research on implicit cognition and addiction has expanded greatly during the past decade. This research area provides new ways to understand why people engage in behaviors that they know are harmful or counterproductive in the long run. Implicit cognition takes a different view from traditional cognitive approaches to addiction by assuming that behavior is often not a result of a reflective decision that takes into account the pros and cons known by the individual. Instead of a cognitive algebra integrating many cognitions relevant to choice, implicit cognition assumes that the influential cognitions are the ones that are spontaneously activated during critical decision points. This selective review highlights many of the consistent findings supporting predictive effects of implicit cognition on substance use and abuse in adolescents and adults; reveals a recent integration with dual-process models; outlines the rapid evolution of different measurement tools; and introduces new routes for intervention.
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