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What Can Pavlov’s Dogs Tell Us About Drinking?

Summary: Specific visual cues, such as seeing a liquor store, may prompt those with alcohol addiction to drink, a new study reports.

Source: Concordia University.

Researchers from Concordia University explain how fancy glassware and the sight of a liquor store can facilitate alcohol addiction.

Humans aren’t much different from other animals. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we can become conditioned to associate environmental cues with rewards. Innocent enough when the sight of your sneakers makes you want to go for a run, but not necessarily so when the sight of the liquor store prompts you to want a drink.

Indeed, Pavlovian cues that predict alcohol can lead us toward addiction. And sometimes those cues can become desirable in and of themselves, as shown in a new study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience by researchers from Concordia University in Montreal.

“Alcohol addiction is compounded by our ability to learn about predictive cues,” says Nadia Chaudhri, the study’s lead author and professor in the Department of Psychology.

“Conditioned reactions to those cues can trigger behaviours that result in drinking, like turning into the SAQ or reaching for a beer.”

The results of the study suggest that cues that predict alcohol can become highly desirable; therefore, people may keep drinking because of the pleasure derived from our interactions with them.

According to this research, drinkers wishing to make a change in their habits shouldn’t just focus on the booze itself, but on all the factors that surround alcohol consumption.

“Many people have specialized glassware for different kinds of drinks, and strong preferences for what they drink,” Chaudhri explains.

“These preferences could be driven by the sensory properties of alcohol, like its taste, smell and how it looks. It is important for people to realize that drinking alcohol is a complex behaviour, and in addition to what alcohol does to our brains, it also plays a role in regulating our behaviours.”

For the study, Chaudhri and her co-authors, former Concordia student Chandra Srey and postdoctoral researcher Jean-Marie Maddux, worked with 25 lab rats who were conditioned to associated a specific cue with the presence of ethanol — the main kind of alcohol found in alcoholic drinks.

Image shows a person drinking.

According to this research, drinkers wishing to make a change in their habits shouldn’t just focus on the booze itself, but on all the factors that surround alcohol consumption.NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

The researchers paired a visual cue with the ethanol so that rats would come to expect alcohol every time they saw that cue. Eventually, when the cue was presented, rats approached the location where alcohol was about to be delivered. But after a time they stopped performing this behaviour and instead began approaching and interacting with the cue.

This happened even though the rats gained nothing by playing with the cue, and would actually have been better served by approaching the location where alcohol was about to be delivered.

The researchers also noted that the rats would work to earn presentations of a cue that was previously paired with alcohol, even when alcohol was not dispensed along with that cue. These results suggest that a cue that predicts alcohol can become highly desireable.

So how can rat behaviour help explain human addiction?

“Lots of our behaviours are governed by fundamental learning mechanisms that are also present in other animal species,” says Chaudhri. “By modelling these behaviours in rats we can better understand the factors that control how these behaviours are acquired and maintained in humans.”

She explains that we can use animal models to figure out ways to minimize unwanted behaviours like responding to cues that predict alcohol.

“This knowledge can then be brought back to the clinic, where we can test similar strategies in humans,” says Chaudhri.

“Rat models can also be used to inform us of the brain mechanisms that are important for behaviour. These basic science studies provide a critical foundation for the development of treatments for disorders like alcohol abuse and addiction.”

Chaudhri will soon present the results of this and other related studies at the upcoming Society for Quantitative Analyses of Behavior annual symposium taking place May 27 to 28 in Chicago.

About this psychology research article

Funding: This research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Source: Cléa Desjardins – Concordia University
Image Source: This NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “The attribution of incentive salience to Pavlovian alcohol cues: a shift from goal-tracking to sign-tracking” by Chandra S. Srey, Jean-Marie N. Maddux and Nadia Chaudhri in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. Published online March 3 2016 doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00054

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Concordia University. “What Can Pavlov’s Dogs Tell Us About Drinking?.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 25 May 2016.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/psychology-drinking-pavlovian-4309/>.
Concordia University. (2016, May 25). What Can Pavlov’s Dogs Tell Us About Drinking?. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved May 25, 2016 from http://neurosciencenews.com/psychology-drinking-pavlovian-4309/
Concordia University. “What Can Pavlov’s Dogs Tell Us About Drinking?.” http://neurosciencenews.com/psychology-drinking-pavlovian-4309/ (accessed May 25, 2016).

Abstract

The attribution of incentive salience to Pavlovian alcohol cues: a shift from goal-tracking to sign-tracking

Environmental stimuli that are reliably paired with alcohol may acquire incentive salience, a property that can operate in the use and abuse of alcohol. Here we investigated the incentive salience of Pavlovian alcohol cues using a preclinical animal model. Male, Long-Evans rats (Harlan) with unrestricted access to food and water were acclimated to drinking 15% ethanol (v/v) in their home-cages. Rats then received Pavlovian autoshaping training in which the 10 s presentation of a retractable lever served as the conditioned stimulus (CS) and 15% ethanol served as the unconditioned stimulus (US) (0.2 ml/CS; 12 CS presentations/session; 27 sessions). Next, in an operant test of conditioned reinforcement, nose pokes into an active aperture delivered presentations of the lever-CS, whereas nose pokes into an inactive aperture had no consequences. Across initial autoshaping sessions, goal-tracking behavior, as measured by entries into the fluid port where ethanol was delivered, developed rapidly. However, with extended training goal-tracking diminished, and sign-tracking responses, as measured by lever-CS activations, emerged. Control rats that received explicitly unpaired CS and US presentations did not show goal-tracking or sign-tracking responses. In the test for conditioned reinforcement, rats with CS-US pairings during autoshaping training made more active relative to inactive nose pokes, whereas rats in the unpaired control group did not. Moreover, active nose pokes were positively correlated with sign-tracking behavior during autoshaping. Extended training may produce a shift in the learned properties of Pavlovian alcohol cues, such that after initially predicting alcohol availability they acquire robust incentive salience.

“The attribution of incentive salience to Pavlovian alcohol cues: a shift from goal-tracking to sign-tracking” by Chandra S. Srey, Jean-Marie N. Maddux and Nadia Chaudhri in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. Published online March 3 2016 doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00054

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