Associative learning in alcohol dependence

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Aim: The aim of these experiments was to investigate Pavlovian conditioning mechanisms in light and heavy alcohol users. It was hypothesised the heavier drinkers would have slower rates of extinction of cue-outcome associations compared to the lighter drinkers.

Experiment 1: Methods: The participants were 74 undergraduate social drinkers from the University of Southampton. The experiment was a single 40 minute session consisting of questionnaires (AUDIT-C, TLFB and BIS-11) and computer task used to study human learning. The task was a game in which the participants learned to predict which objects predict a red or green flash on the screen.

Results: The results showed there was no statistically significant difference between groups in rates of extinction, however there was a trend towards heavier drinkers having impaired extinction. Conclusion: There was no significant difference between light and heavy social drinkers in their ability to extinguish learned associations. However, it is possible a greater difference in conditioning mechanisms would only be detectable between social drinkers and alcohol-dependent groups.

Experiment 2: is a replication of experiment 1 with an alcohol-dependent sample and age and sex matched controls. Data collection is in progress. We aim to get 51 dependent sample and an equal number of controls.


Dr. Julia Sinclair, Associate Professor in Psychiatry, Honorary Consultant in Alcohol Liaison and Wessex Alcohol (AHSN) Lead, University of Southampton. Dr. Steven Glautier, Associate Professor in Psychology, University of Southampton.

Conflicts of interest:

No conflict of interest


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Mr Carl Buckfield