Reward-related attentional capture moderates the association between fear-driven motives and heavy drinking

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Background: To date, there has been little investigation on how motivational and cognitive mechanisms interact to influence problematic drinking behaviours. Towards this aim, the current study examined whether reward-related attentional capture is associated with reward, fear (relief), and habit drinking motives, and further, whether it interacts with these motives in relation to problematic drinking patterns. Methods: Ninety participants (mean age = 34.8 years, SD = 9.1, 54% male) who reported having consumed alcohol in the past month completed an online visual search task that measured reward-related attentional capture as well as the Habit Reward Fear Scale, a measure of drinking motives. Participants also completed measures of psychological distress, impulsivity, compulsive drinking, and consumption items of Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Regression analyses examined the associations between motives for alcohol consumption and reward-related attentional capture, as well as the associations between reward-related attentional capture, motives, and their interaction, with alcohol consumption and problems. Results: Greater reward-related attentional capture was associated with greater reward motives. Further, reward-related attentional capture also interacted with fear motives in relation to alcohol consumption. Follow-up analyses showed that this interaction was driven by greater fear motives being associated with heavier drinking among those with lower reward-related attentional capture (i.e., "goal-trackers"). Conclusion: These findings have implications for understanding how cognition may interact with motives in association with problematic drinking. Specifically, the findings highlight different potential pathways to problematic drinking according to an individual's cognitive-motivational profile and may inform tailored interventions to target profile-specific mechanisms. Finally, these findings offer support for contemporary models of addiction that view excessive goal-directed behaviour under negative affect as a critical contributor to addictive behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Addiction Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Alcohol
  • Drinking motives
  • Goal-directed choice
  • Negative affect
  • Reward learning

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