Decision‑making inflexibility in a reversal learning task is associated with severity of problem gambling symptoms but not with a diagnosis of substance use disorder
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Addictive disordersGambling DisorderGambling severityCompulsivityLearning inflexibilityProbabilistic reversal learning task
Jara-Rizzo, M.F... [et al.]. Decision-making inflexibility in a reversal learning task is associated with severity of problem gambling symptoms but not with a diagnosis of substance use disorder. BMC Psychol 8, 120 (2020). [https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-020-00482-6]
SponsorshipUniversity of Guayaquil-Ecuador (Programa de Becas para Profesores de la UG); Spanish Government (Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad, Secretaria de Estado de Investigacion, Desarrollo e Innovacion); Convocatoria 2017 de Proyectos I + D de Excelencia, Spain; Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional, FEDER, European Comission PSI2017-85488-P
Background: Decisions made by individuals with disordered gambling are markedly inflexible. However, whether anomalies in learning from feedback are gambling-specific, or extend beyond gambling contexts, remains an open question. More generally, addictive disorders—including gambling disorder—have been proposed to be facilitated by individual differences in feedback-driven decision-making inflexibility, which has been studied in the lab with the Probabilistic Reversal Learning Task (PRLT). In this task, participants are first asked to learn which of two choice options is more advantageous, on the basis of trial-by-trial feedback, but, once preferences are established, reward contingencies are reversed, so that the advantageous option becomes disadvantageous and vice versa. Inflexibility is revealed by a less effective reacquisition of preferences after reversal, which can be distinguished from more generalized learning deficits. Methods: In the present study, we compared PRLT performance across two groups of 25 treatment-seeking patients diagnosed with an addictive disorder and who reported gambling problems, and 25 matched controls [18 Males/7 Females in both groups, Mage( SDage) = 25.24 (8.42) and 24.96 (7.90), for patients and controls, respectively]. Beyond testing for differences in the shape of PRLT learning curves across groups, the specific effect of problematic gambling symptoms’ severity was also assessed independently of group assignment. In order to surpass previous methodological problems, full acquisition and reacquisition curves were fitted using generalized mixed-effect models. Results: Results showed that (1) controls did not significantly differ from patients in global PRLT performance nor showed specific signs of decision-making inflexibility; and (2) regardless of whether group affiliation was controlled for or not, gambling severity was specifically associated with more inefficient learning in phases with reversed contingencies. Conclusion: Decision-making inflexibility, as revealed by difficulty to reacquire decisional preferences based on feedback after contingency reversals, seems to be associated with gambling problems, but not necessarily with a substance-use disorder diagnosis. This result aligns with gambling disorder models in which domain-general compulsivity is linked to vulnerability to develop gambling-specific problems with exposure to gambling opportunities.