Selective attention moderates the relationship between attentional capture by signals of nondrug reward and illicit drug use

Lucy Albertella, Jan Copeland, Daniel Pearson, Poppy Watson, Reinout W. Wiers, Mike E. Le Pelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Background The current study examined whether cognitive control moderates the association between (non-drug) reward-modulated attentional capture and use of alcohol and other drugs (AOD). Methods Participants were 66 university students who completed an assessment including questions about AOD use, a visual search task to measure value-modulated attentional capture, and a goal-directed selective attention task as a measure of cognitive control. Results The association between the effect of value-modulated attentional capture and illicit drug use was moderated by level of cognitive control. Among participants with lower levels of cognitive control, value-modulated attentional capture was associated with illicit drug use. This was not the case among participants with higher levels of cognitive control, who instead showed a significant association between illicit drug use and self-reported impulsivity, as well as alcohol use. Conclusions These results provide support for models that view addictive behaviours as resulting from interaction and competition between automatic and more reflective processes. That is, the mechanisms that ultimately drive addictive behaviour may differ between people low or high in cognitive control. This has important implications for understanding the development and maintenance of substance use disorders and potentially their treatment and prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-105
Number of pages7
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Reward learning
  • Sign-tracking
  • Substance use

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