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Value-based decision-making in regular alcohol consumers following experimental manipulation of alcohol value.

BACKGROUND: Devaluation of alcohol leads to reductions in alcohol choice and consumption; however, the cognitive mechanisms that underpin this relationship are not well-understood. In this study we applied a computational model of value-based decision-making (VBDM) to decisions made about alcohol and alcohol-unrelated cues following experimental manipulation of alcohol value.

METHOD: Using a pre-registered within-subject design, thirty-six regular alcohol consumers (≥14 UK units per week) completed a two-alternative forced choice task where they chose between two alcohol images (in one block) or two soft drink images (in a different block) after watching videos that emphasised the positive (alcohol value), and separately, the negative (alcohol devalue) consequences of alcohol. On each block, participants pressed a key to select the image depicting the drink they would rather consume. A drift-diffusion model (DDM) was fitted to reaction time and choice data to estimate evidence accumulation (EA) processes and response thresholds during the different blocks in each experimental condition.

FINDINGS: In the alcohol devalue condition, soft drink EA rates were significantly higher compared to alcohol EA rates (p = 0.04, d = 0.31), and compared to soft drink EA rates in the alcohol value condition (p = 0.01, d = 0.38). However, EA rates for alcoholic drinks and response thresholds (for either drink type) were unaffected by the experimental manipulation.

CONCLUSIONS: In line with behavioural economic models of addiction that emphasise the important role of alternative reinforcement, experimentally manipulating alcohol value is associated with changes in the internal cognitive processes that precede soft drink choice.

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