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Human nicotine conditioning requires explicit contingency knowledge: is addictive behaviour cognitively mediated?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 18:59 authored by Lee Hogarth, Dora Duka
Rationale: Two seemingly contrary theories describe the learning mechanisms that mediate human addictive behaviour. According to the classical incentive theories of addiction, addictive behaviour is motivated by a Pavlovian conditioned appetitive emotional response elicited by drug-paired stimuli. Expectancy theory, on the other hand, argues that addictive behaviour is mediated by an expectancy of the drug imparted by cognitive knowledge of the Pavlovian (predictive) contingency between stimuli (S+) and the drug and of the instrumental (causal) contingency between instrumental behaviour and the drug. Aims and method: The present paper reviewed humannicotine- conditioning studies to assess the role of appetitive emotional conditioning and explicit contingency knowledge in mediating addictive behaviour. Results: The studies reviewed here provided evidence for both the emotional conditioning and the expectancy accounts. The first source of evidence is that nicotine-paired S+ elicit an appetitive emotional conditioned response (CR), albeit only in participants who expect nicotine. Furthermore, the magnitude of this emotional state is modulated by nicotine deprivation/satiation. However, the causal status of the emotional response in driving other forms of conditioned behaviour remains undemonstrated. The second source of evidence is that other nicotine CRs, including physiological responses, self-administration, attentional bias and subjective craving, are also dependent on participants possessing explicit knowledge of the Pavlovian contingencies arranged in the experiment. In addition, several of the nicotine CRs can be brought about or modified by instructed contingency knowledge, demonstrating the causal status of this knowledge. Conclusions: Collectively, these data suggest that human nicotine conditioned effects are mediated by an explicit expectancy of the drug coupled with an appetitive emotional response that reflects the positive biological value of the drug. The implication of this conclusion is that treatments designed to modify the expected value of the drug may prove effective.


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