, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 154-167

Constraint, alcoholism, and electrodermal response in aversive classical conditioning and mismatch novelty paradigms

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This study investigated whether low levels of the personality trait of constraint and early-onset alcoholism would be associated with deficits in aversive conditioning and smaller responses to novelty in a stimulus mismatch protocol. Personality traits (constraint and socialization) and skin conductance responses (SCRs) during conditioning and novelty paradigms were assessed in alcoholics (n=41) and non-alcoholics (n=32). The conditioning protocol involved measuring SCRs after conditioned stimuli (CS+: tones) paired with shock, CS− tones unpaired with shock, and CS+ probes unpaired with shock. The mismatch protocol involved measuring SCRs to auditory stimuli consisting of a series of 5 pure tones of the same pitch followed a shorter white noise stimulus (the novel stimulus). Contrary to the hypothesis, alcoholics did not differ from non-alcoholics in SCRs to CS+ probes or on the mismatch measure (SCR novel tone—SCR to 5th tone). Higher levels of constraint and self-reports of fear during conditioning were associated with smaller responses to both the CS+ probes and the CS− tones as well as the mismatch measure within non-alcoholics, but not within alcoholics. In alcoholics, low constraint was associated with greater habituation to CS+ probes, and poor differential conditioning on measures of change across trials in SCR to CS+ probes and CS− stimuli. The results suggest that different processes influence levels of constraint in non-alcoholics and alcoholics. The data indicate that low constraint in non-alcoholics is associated with allocating fewer processing resources to potentially significant stimuli, rather than being associated with a specific deficit in aversive conditioning per se.