Cognitive Inhibition Modifies the Affective and Incentive Value of Motivationally Salient Stimuli
People with substance dependence show maladaptive approach responses toward stimuli related to their drug of addiction. Reducing the motivational salience of these appealing but maladaptive stimuli could decrease these inappropriate approach responses. Tasks that involve response inhibition influence the affective valence of stimuli, such that previously inhibited items are disliked compared to never-inhibited items. It is not clear, however, whether this effect can be harnessed to develop interventions to decrease the maladaptive motivational salience of addiction-related stimuli. To lay the groundwork for such an intervention, I first determined that people in treatment for substance dependence showed affective devaluation of previously-inhibited stimuli (Experiment 1). Because adolescence is associated with high risk of illegal substance use, I then examined the magnitude of the inhibitory devaluation effect in a group of adolescents from an adverse background (Experiment 2). Devaluation of inhibited stimuli increased significantly with age, suggesting that the effect occurs more strongly as the brain matures. Drug-related stimuli are extremely motivationally salient to people with substance dependence. Experiments 3-6 examined the affective consequences of inhibition for different types of motivationally salient stimuli: geometric images associated with monetary gains or losses, or sexually-appealing images. Finally, I determined that inhibition affects not only a stimulus’ affective valence, but also its motivational value. Heterosexual male participants who inhibited images of attractive females were later less likely to press a key in order to see more images of that type than participants who did not inhibit these images (Experiment 7). Taken together, this evidence suggests that computer-based tasks involving inhibition may be useful for decreasing the affective and motivational salience of drug-related stimuli in substance-dependent individuals.