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Hostile attributional biases in severe alcohol use disorder: replication, gender specificity, and mechanistic insights.

Alcohol and Alcoholism 2024 January 18
AIMS: Despite their importance in the emergence and persistence of severe alcohol use disorder (SAUD), social cognition impairments remain understudied in this population. Hostile attributional biases (HAB), a key component of social cognition, may be involved in interpersonal problems and SAUD maintenance. However, current evidence for HAB in SAUD is highly preliminary, as it relies on a single study based on a small sample and on a task that cannot dissociate increased hostile from reduced benign attributions. We therefore used an improved methodology to further characterize this bias and disentangle underlying mechanisms. In addition, we explored potential gender differences.

METHOD: A total of 56 patients (28 women) diagnosed with SAUD and 66 (27 women) demographically matched controls completed the Word-Sentence Association Paradigm-Hostility, which provides a valid, spontaneous, and relatively implicit assessment of both hostile and benign social attributions related to ambiguous situations. They also completed self-report measures of psychopathology and interpersonal problems.

RESULTS: At the group-level, patients with SAUD presented higher HAB than controls, without group differences for benign attributions. Gender analyses revealed that this effect selectively emerged in men with SAUD. Further, patients' benign attributions did not differ from their hostile attributions. Finally, HAB (not benign attributions) were associated with interpersonal problems and state anxiety in patients.

CONCLUSIONS: The association between SAUD and HAB at the group level is genuine and replicable across samples and tasks. This association may further selectively emerge in men. Our results also confirm the functional significance of HAB in SAUD, and point to potential mechanisms and clinical recommendations.

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