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Neuropsychologia. 2002;40(10):1690-705.

Decision-making and addiction (part II): myopia for the future or hypersensitivity to reward?

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Department of Neurology, University of Iowa, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


On a decision-making instrument known as the "gambling task" (GT), a subgroup of substance dependent individuals (SDI) opted for choices that yield high immediate gains in spite of higher future losses. This resembles the behavior of patients with ventromedial (VM) prefrontal cortex lesions. In this study, we addressed the possibility that hypersensitivity to reward may account for the "myopia" for the future in this subgroup of SDI. We used a variant version of the GT, in which the good decks yielded high immediate punishment but higher delayed reward. The bad decks yielded low immediate punishment and lower delayed reward. We measured the skin conductance response (SCR) of subjects after receiving reward (reward SCR) and during their pondering from which deck to choose (anticipatory SCR). A subgroup of SDI who was not impaired on the original GT performed normally on the variant GT. The subgroup of SDI who was impaired on the original GT showed two levels of performance on the variant GT. One subgroup (36% of the sample) performed poorly on the variant GT, and showed similar behavioral and physiological impairments to VM patients. The other subgroup of SDI (64% of the sample) performed normally on the variant task, but had abnormally large physiological responses to reward, i.e. large SCR after receiving reward (reward SCR) and large SCR in anticipation of outcomes that yield large reward. Thus, the combined cognitive and physiological approach of assessing decision-making characterizes three sub-populations of SDI. One sub-population is without impairments that can be detected by any measure of the GT paradigm. Another sub-population is similar to VM patients in that they are insensitive to the future, both positive and negative. A third sub-population is hypersensitive to reward, so that the presence or the prospect of receiving, reward dominates their behavior.

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