Does acute stress influence the Pavlovian-to-Instrumental-transfer effect? Implications for substance use disorders

Faculty/Professorship: Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy  ; Pathopsychology  
Author(s): Steins-Löber, Sabine  ; Lörsch, Frank ; Seiferth, Caroline  ; Müller, Astrid; Brand, Matthias; Duka, Theodora; Wolf, Oliver T.
By: ... ; Van der Velde, Caroline ; ...
Title of the Journal: Psychopharmacology
ISSN: 1432-2072,
Publisher Information: Berlin ; Heidelberg ; New York, NY : Springer
Year of publication: 2020
Volume: 237
Issue: 8
Pages: 2305-2316
Language(s): English
DOI: 10.1007/s00213-020-05534-8

The ability of conditioned stimuli to affect instrumental responding is a robust finding from animal as well as human research and is assumed as a key factor regarding the development and maintenance of addictive behaviour.


While it is well known that stress is an important factor for relapse after treatment, little is known about the impact of stress on conditioned substance-associated stimuli and their influence on instrumental responding.


We administered in the present study a Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT) paradigm with stimuli associated with smoking- and chocolate-related rewards using points in a token economy to light to moderate smokers who also indicated to like eating chocolate. After completion of the first two phases of the PIT paradigm (i.e. Pavlovian training and instrumental trainings), participants were randomly allocated to the socially evaluated cold pressor test or a control condition before the final phase of the PIT paradigm, the transfer phase, was administered.


The presentation of a smoking-related stimulus enhanced instrumental responding for a smoking-related reward (i.e. ‘smoking-PIT’ effect) and presentation of a chocolate-related stimulus for a chocolate-related reward (i.e. ‘chocolate-PIT’ effect) in participants aware of the experimental contingencies as indicated by expectancy ratings. However, acute stress did not change (i.e. neither enhanced nor attenuated) the ‘smoking-PIT’ effect or the ‘chocolate-PIT’ effect, and no overall effect of acute stress on tobacco choice was observed in aware participants.


The established role of stress in addiction appears not to be driven by an augmenting effect on the ability of drug stimuli to promote drug-seeking.
GND Keywords: Stress; Sucht; Nikotin
Keywords: Addiction, Nicotine dependence, Socially evaluated cold pressor test
DDC Classification: 150 Psychology  
RVK Classification: YH 2800   
Peer Reviewed: Ja
International Distribution: Ja
Type: Article
Release Date: 28. July 2020