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Cognitive Science Graduate Student - Sergej Grunevski: Theoretical foundations of craving and the value of drugs and food in daily life

Thursday, February 23, 2023, 05:00pm

Rutgers Psychology Department, 152 Frelinghuysen Rd, Busch campus, Rm A139

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Abstract: Addiction is classically conceptualized as a habit/compulsion disorder acting via the dopaminergic system and model-free reinforcement learning computations. This account fails to capture goal-directed aspects of addiction, including the outcome sensitivity of drug craving that manifests as a time-limited change in subjective value for the craved drug. Such findings may be explained by emerging models of latent cause inference: individuals assign cues, actions, and outcomes to distinct hidden “causes” that align with specific subjective states and value functions. Such parsing of the world into distinct latent causes/states can account for, for example, why encountering drug cues elevates craving and drug motivation despite goals to remain abstinent. Here we tested this framework in a 28-day study of treatment-engaged patients with opioid use disorder (N=46) who completed daily smartphone-enabled surveys/tasks. They reported on momentary craving for heroin and food (sweet, savory), their current assigned value for heroin and snack foods across different quantities in the moment, and past-hour exposures to drug cues (e.g., seeing/being offered heroin). Drug cue exposure prompted higher urge to use and heroin value. Both effects were present at the within-person level (day-level change in cue exposure from person-level mean). Importantly, cue exposure covaried with higher urges to consume food but not higher motivation/value for it. Hence, real-world drug cue exposure promotes a general craving state that translates to outcome-specific changes in valuation. Our results show how encountering addiction-relevant stimuli can lead to inferring causes that correspond with elevated drug value, thereby potentiating relapse risk despite stated abstinence goals.

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BIO: Sergej Grunevski is a first-year Ph.D. student in Cognitive Psychology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. His primary graduate mentor is Dr. Anna Konova, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, whose main research focus is addiction & decision neuroscience. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Sergej received his B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Kansas and then worked as a research coordinator for three years at the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment under Drs. Richard Yi and Tim Pleskac.