Substance use is associated with reduced devaluation sensitivity Academic Article uri icon


  • Substance use has been linked to impairments in reward processing and decision-making, yet empirical research on the relationship between substance use and devaluation of reward in humans is limited. We report findings from two studies that tested whether individual differences in substance use behavior predicted reward learning strategies and devaluation sensitivity in a nonclinical sample. Participants in Experiment 1 (N = 66) and Experiment 2 (N = 91) completed subscales of the Externalizing Spectrum Inventory and then performed a two-stage reinforcement learning task that included a devaluation procedure. Spontaneous eye blink rate was used as an indirect proxy for dopamine functioning. In Experiment 1, correlational analysis revealed a negative relationship between substance use and devaluation sensitivity. In Experiment 2, regression modeling revealed that while spontaneous eyeblink rate moderated the relationship between substance use and reward learning strategies, substance use alone was related to devaluation sensitivity. These results suggest that once reward-action associations are established during reinforcement learning, substance use predicted reduced sensitivity to devaluation independently of variation in eyeblink rate. Thus, substance use is not only related to increased habit formation but also to difficulty disengaging from learned habits. Implications for the role of the dopaminergic system in habitual responding in individuals with substance use problems are discussed.

author list (cited authors)

  • Byrne, K. A., Otto, A. R., Pang, B. o., Patrick, C. J., & Worthy, D. A.

citation count

  • 8

publication date

  • February 2019