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Cocaine images capture motivated attention among users
Date:4/4/2011

UPTON, NY - Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University (SBU) have conducted the most comprehensive study to date of how cocaine users respond to drug-related and other emotional stimuli, making use of comparisons with a matched control group and exploring the effects of recent cocaine use and abstinence. The findings appear in a paper published online in the European Journal of Neuroscience.

Using measures of brain activity over time, the scientists found that images depicting cocaine use immediately captured motivated attention among both active and abstinent cocaine users - similar to the way other pleasant and unpleasant emotional images captured their attention compared with less evocative neutral scenes. But while abstinent cocaine users generally retained this heightened attentive engagement, those who had used cocaine within the past three days quickly lost their sensitivity, first to pleasant and then to drug-related and unpleasant evocative images - all within a mere 2000 milliseconds.

"Though a dampened response to drug images might appear helpful in those struggling with addiction, the impaired response to other emotional stimuli among recent cocaine users could indicate a general difficulty in sustaining motivated attention," said Rita Goldstein, director of Brookhaven's Neuropsychoimaging Group. "Impairments in sustaining non-drug-related, goal-oriented motivation could predispose addicted individuals to drug use as a way to compensate for their reduced response to other reinforcement - including the rewards that would come from not taking drugs," she said.

The scientists studied 28 people addicted to cocaine who had used the drug within the past three days, 27 addicted individuals who had not used in that time, and 29 matched healthy control subjects. Using a "cap" of electrodes placed externally on the scalp, the scientists took measures of brain activi
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Contact: Karen McNulty Walsh
kmcnulty@bnl.gov
631-344-8350
DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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