, Volume 235, Issue 1, pp 223–232 | Cite as

Decision-making, somatic markers and emotion processing in opiate users

  • Kathryn Biernacki
  • Gill Terrett
  • Skye N. McLennan
  • Izelle Labuschagne
  • Phoebe Morton
  • Peter G. Rendell
Original Investigation



Opiate use is associated with deficits in decision-making. A possible explanation for these deficits is provided by the somatic marker hypothesis, which suggests that substance users may experience abnormal emotional responses during decision-making involving reward and punishment. This in turn may interfere with the brief physiological arousal, i.e. somatic markers that normally occur in anticipation of risky decisions. To date, the applicability of the somatic marker hypothesis to explain decision-making deficits has not been investigated in opiate users.


This study assessed whether decision-making deficits in opiate users were related to abnormal emotional responses and reduced somatic markers.


Opiate users enrolled in an opiate substitute treatment program (n = 28) and healthy controls (n = 32) completed the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) while their skin conductance responses (SCRs) were recorded. Participants’ emotional responses to emotion-eliciting videos were also recorded using SCRs and subjective ratings.


Opiate users displayed poorer decision-making on the IGT than did controls. However, there were no differences between the groups in SCRs; both groups displayed stronger SCRs following punishment than following reward, and both groups displayed stronger anticipatory SCRs prior to disadvantageous decisions than advantageous decisions. There were no group differences in objective or subjective measures of emotional responses to the videos.


The results suggest that deficits in emotional responsiveness are not apparent in opiate users who are receiving pharmacological treatment. Thus, the somatic marker hypothesis does not provide a good explanation for the decision-making deficits in this group.


Opiate Heroin Decision-making Somatic marker Skin conductance Emotion experience 



We acknowledge the help of Lauren McKeogh in data extraction.

Funding information

This study was supported by the Faculty Research Student Support Scheme grant at the Australian Catholic University and an Australian Catholic University Research Fund Program grant. KB was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program scholarship.

Compliance with ethical standards

Informed consent was obtained from participants and they were tested individually in one session. This study was approved by the Australian Catholic University ethics committee and conformed to the ethical standards set out in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cognition and Emotion Research Centre, School of PsychologyAustralian Catholic UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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