Is talk "cheap"? An initial investigation of the equivalence of alcohol purchase task performance for hypothetical and actual rewards

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012 Apr;36(4):716-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01656.x. Epub 2011 Oct 21.


Background: Behavioral economic alcohol purchase tasks (APTs) are self-report measures of alcohol demand that assess estimated consumption at escalating levels of price. However, the relationship between estimated performance for hypothetical outcomes and choices for actual outcomes has not been determined. The present study examined both the correspondence between choices for hypothetical and actual outcomes, and the correspondence between estimated alcohol consumption and actual drinking behavior. A collateral goal of the study was to examine the effects of alcohol cues on APT performance.

Methods: Forty-one heavy-drinking adults (56% men) participated in a human laboratory protocol comprising APTs for hypothetical and actual alcohol and money, an alcohol cue reactivity paradigm, an alcohol self-administration period, and a recovery period.

Results: Pearson correlations revealed very high correspondence between APT performance for hypothetical and actual alcohol (ps < 0.001). Estimated consumption on the APT was similarly strongly associated with actual consumption during the self-administration period (r = 0.87, p < 0.001). Exposure to alcohol cues significantly increased subjective craving and arousal and had a trend-level effect on intensity of demand, in spite of notable ceiling effects. Associations among motivational indices were highly variable, suggesting multidimensionality.

Conclusions: These results suggest there may be close correspondence both between value preferences for hypothetical alcohol and actual alcohol, and between estimated consumption and actual consumption. Methodological considerations and priorities for future studies are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Alcohol Drinking / economics*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholic Beverages / economics
  • Alcoholism / economics
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Algorithms
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Commerce / economics
  • Cues
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Reward*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult