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Substance usage intention does not affect attentional bias: implications from Ecstasy/MDMA users and alcohol drinkers

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Thomas Wilcockson
  • Emmanuel Pothos
  • Andy Parrott
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>01/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Addictive Behaviors
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)175-181
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date4/09/18
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background: An attentional bias towards substance-related stimuli has been demonstrated with alcohol drinkers and many other types of substance user. There is evidence to suggest that the strength of an attentional bias may vary as a result of context (or use intention), especially within Ecstasy/MDMA users. Objective: Our aim was to empirically investigate attentional biases by observing the affect that use intention plays in recreational MDMA users and compare the findings with that of alcohol users. Method: Regular alcohol drinkers were compared with MDMA users. Performance was assessed for each group separately using two versions of an eye-tracking attentional bias task with pairs of matched neutral, and alcohol or MDMA-related visual stimuli. Dwell time was recorded for alcohol or MDMA. Participants were tested twice, when intending and not intending to use MDMA or alcohol. Note, participants in the alcohol group did not complete any tasks which involved MDMA-related stimuli and vice versa. Results: Significant attentional biases were found with both MDMA and alcohol users for respective substance-related stimuli, but not control stimuli. Critically, use intention did not affect attentional biases. Attentional biases were demonstrated with both MDMA users and alcohol drinkers when usage was and was not intended. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate the robust nature of attentional biases i.e. once an attentional bias has developed, it is not readily affected by intention.