Susceptibility to interference between Pavlovian and instrumental control is associated with early hazardous alcohol use
Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT) tasks examine the influence of Pavlovian stimuli on ongoing instrumental behaviour. Previous studies reported associations between a strong PIT effect, high-risk drinking and alcohol use disorder. This study investigated whether susceptibility to interference between Pavlovian and instrumental control is linked to risky alcohol use in a community sample of 18-year-old male adults. Participants (N = 191) were instructed to 'collect good shells' and 'leave
... shells' and 'leave bad shells' during the presentation of appetitive (monetary reward), aversive (monetary loss) or neutral Pavlovian stimuli. We compared instrumental error rates (ER) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain responses between the congruent and incongruent conditions, as well as among high-risk and low-risk drinking groups. On average, individuals showed a substantial PIT effect, that is, increased ER when Pavlovian cues and instrumental stimuli were in conflict compared with congruent trials. Neural PIT correlates were found in the ventral striatum and the dorsomedial and lateral prefrontal cortices (lPFC). Importantly, high-risk drinking was associated with a stronger behavioural PIT effect, a decreased lPFC response and an increased neural response in the ventral striatum on the trend level. Moreover, high-risk drinkers showed weaker connectivity from the ventral striatum to the lPFC during incongruent trials. Our study links interference during PIT to drinking behaviour in healthy, young adults. High-risk drinkers showed higher susceptibility to Pavlovian cues, especially when they conflicted with instrumental behaviour, indicating lower interference control abilities. Increased activity in the ventral striatum (bottom-up), decreased lPFC response (top-down), and their altered interplay may contribute to poor interference control in the high-risk drinkers.