Reward-related attentional capture and cognitive inflexibility interact to determine greater severity of compulsivity-related problems

Lucy Albertella, Mike E. Le Pelley, Samuel R. Chamberlain, Fred Westbrook, Rico S.C. Lee, Leonardo F. Fontenelle, Jon E. Grant, Rebecca A. Segrave, Eugene McTavish, Murat Yücel

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives: Neurocognitive processes are key drivers of addictive and compulsive disorders. The current study examined whether reward-related attentional capture and cognitive inflexibility are associated with impulsive and/or compulsive personality traits, and whether these cognitive characteristics interact to predict greater compulsivity-related problems across obsessive-compulsive and drinking behaviors. Methods: One-hundred and seventy-three participants (mean age = 34.5 years, S.D = 8.4, 42% female) completed an online visual search task to measure reward-related attentional capture and its persistence following reversal of stimulus-reward contingencies. Participants also completed questionnaires to assess trait impulsivity, compulsivity, alcohol use, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Results: Greater reward-related attentional capture was associated with trait compulsivity, over and above all impulsivity dimensions, while greater cognitive inflexibility was associated with higher negative urgency (distress-elicited impulsivity). Reward-related attentional capture and cognitive inflexibility interacted to predict greater compulsivity-related problems among participants who reported obsessive-compulsive behaviors in the past month (n = 57) as well as current drinkers (n = 88). Follow-up analyses showed that, for OCD behaviors, this interaction was driven by an association between higher reward-related attentional capture and more problematic behaviors among cognitively inflexible participants only. For drinking, the same pattern was seen, albeit at trend level. Limitations: This study includes a non-clinical, online sample and is cross-sectional, thus its findings need to be interpreted with these limitations in mind. Conclusions: Reward-related attentional capture and cognitive flexibility are related to trait compulsivity and impulsivity (negative urgency) respectively, and interact to determine more problematic behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101580
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Cognitive inflexibility
  • Compulsivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Reward learning

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