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Electrophysiological responses to appetitive and aversive outcomes: A comparison of college drinkers and non-drinkers

Previous studies suggest that problematic alcohol use can lead to negative health and social consequences along with an inability to process and learn from the consequences. The current study attempts to examine the relationship between feedback-related negativity and quantity and frequency of alcohol use along with comparing the relationship between appetitive outcomes and aversive outcomes.

50 students were included in the final study. To determine drinking status, participants self-reported number of average drinks during a one week period during the past year. The drinkers in the study reported an average of 6 alcoholic drinks throughout a week. Researchers also had participants complete surveys to assess current depression, anxiety, and impulsivity. The participants then completed two tasks called the reward prediction task and the punishment task. These two tests were given to asses neural sensitivity to appetitive and aversive outcomes.

What the results showed is that non-drinkers were more sensitive to aversive outcomes than to the appetitive outcomes. Drinkers were found to be equally sensitive to both outcomes. Overall it was found that drinkers had a smaller neural response to aversive outcomes. This means that they were less sensitive to this type of negative outcome. What this could mean is that college aged drinkers are unable to learn from negative consequences associated with drinking. This decreased sensitivity may contribute to unhealthy drinking behavior in college students. There should be more research completed on reward and punishment to assess how drinking impacts this processing in college students.

Take Away: Previous research has shown that problematic drinking can lead to an inability to process and learn from its consequences. The current study looks at the relationship between alcohol use and its relationship to college students’ responses to appetitive and aversive outcomes. 50 students (drinkers and non-drinkers) were included in the study and they completed two tasks called the reward prediction task and the punishment task. The research showed that overall drinkers were found to have a smaller neural response to aversive outcomes than non-drinkers. This could mean that they are less sensitive to this type of negative outcome and unable to learn from negative consequences associated with drinking. More research should be done to assess how drinking impacts reward and punishment processing in college student drinkers.

Soder, H. E., Suchting, R., & Potts, G. F. (2020). Electrophysiological responses to appetitive and aversive outcomes: A comparison of college drinkers and non-drinkers. Neuroscience Letters, 714, 134549. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2019.134549

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