The role of attentional bias in mediating human drug-seeking behaviour

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2008 Nov;201(1):29-41. doi: 10.1007/s00213-008-1244-2. Epub 2008 Aug 6.


Rationale: The attentional bias for drug cues is believed to be a causal cognitive process mediating human drug seeking and relapse.

Objectives, methods and results: To test this claim, we trained smokers on a tobacco conditioning procedure in which the conditioned stimulus (or S+) acquired parallel control of an attentional bias (measured with an eye tracker), tobacco expectancy and instrumental tobacco-seeking behaviour. Although this correlation between measures may be regarded as consistent with the claim that the attentional bias for the S+ mediated tobacco seeking, when a secondary task was added in the test phase, the attentional bias for the S+ was abolished, yet the control of tobacco expectancy and tobacco seeking remained intact.

Conclusions: This dissociation suggests that the attentional bias for drug cues is not necessary for the control that drug cues exert over drug-seeking behaviour. The question raised by these data is what function does the attentional bias serve if it does not mediate drug seeking?

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Awareness
  • Bias*
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Smoking / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Teaching
  • Tobacco Use Disorder
  • Young Adult