Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer in alcohol dependence: a pilot study

Neuropsychobiology. 2014;70(2):111-21. doi: 10.1159/000363507. Epub 2014 Oct 30.


Background: Pavlovian processes are thought to play an important role in the development, maintenance and relapse of alcohol dependence, possibly by influencing and usurping ongoing thought and behavior. The influence of pavlovian stimuli on ongoing behavior is paradigmatically measured by pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT) tasks. These involve multiple stages and are complex. Whether increased PIT is involved in human alcohol dependence is uncertain. We therefore aimed to establish and validate a modified PIT paradigm that would be robust, consistent and tolerated by healthy controls as well as by patients suffering from alcohol dependence, and to explore whether alcohol dependence is associated with enhanced PIT.

Methods: Thirty-two recently detoxified alcohol-dependent patients and 32 age- and gender-matched healthy controls performed a PIT task with instrumental go/no-go approach behaviors. The task involved both pavlovian stimuli associated with monetary rewards and losses, and images of drinks.

Results: Both patients and healthy controls showed a robust and temporally stable PIT effect. Strengths of PIT effects to drug-related and monetary conditioned stimuli were highly correlated. Patients more frequently showed a PIT effect, and the effect was stronger in response to aversively conditioned CSs (conditioned suppression), but there was no group difference in response to appetitive CSs.

Conclusion: The implementation of PIT has favorably robust properties in chronic alcohol-dependent patients and in healthy controls. It shows internal consistency between monetary and drug-related cues. The findings support an association of alcohol dependence with an increased propensity towards PIT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Conditioning, Operant*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Reward
  • Transfer, Psychology*