3 May : Study Contrary to the popular belief that an addictive behaviour is triggered by the mere sight of the substance, a team of researchers has found that the behaviour is a result of a conscious thought process.
Researchers from universities of Sussex, Cambridge and Nottingham have found that ‘attentional bias’ attention to visual cues of the object of addiction is not the decisive factor.
Rather, it only provides information on the availability of the substance, as per the detection of a visual stimulus, followed by rapid decision-making process that finally propmts the person to go for the desired object.
"We have shown that individuals only need to look at a cue representing the substance they are addicted to for a fleeting moment to want to act on it. This suggests that their actions are instead determined by conscious, rapid decision processes following the detection of a Pavlovian-type visual stimulus," lead researcher Theodora Duka of the University of Sussex said.
He also added, "For example instead of the sight of a pub triggering the addictive behaviour in an alcoholic, our research shows that the momentary sight of a pub leads the brain to make rapid, conscious decisions about going in for a drink, which is what the alcoholic values".
The findings is featured in the latest edition of Business, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) research highlights magazine.
There are many previous explanations that make reference to Pavlov’s classical dog experiments while explaining addiction, where conditional stimuli is capable of producing the same responses that are produced by the reward themselves.
Getting rid of the attentional bias may help to do away with addiction as more attentional bias for cues felicitate the chances of relapsing the habit after treatment.
"You can draw analogies with a person looking at a restaurant menu: they may scan all the items to see what is there, but their choice is determined by the mental image or value that they place on each dish. They choose the one that is most delicious to them at the time, even though their eyes may dwell on other items for longer," Lee Hogarth, from the University of Nottingham said.
The results suggest that while attentional bias can be used to indicate drug motivation, it does not provide a credible target for the treatment of addiction, he said, adding that treatments designed to modify the expected value of the drug or food type may prove more effective.
The researchers are now planning to look at the benefits of training mental attitudes that would modify expectations about the value of things like drugs and some foods so as to intervene for correcting bad habits or preventing obesity.