Cognitive biases and addiction: An evolution in theory and method

Abstract

An evolution in theoretical models and methodological paradigms for investigating cognitive biases in the addictions is discussed. Anomalies in traditional cognitive perspectives, and problems with the self-report methods which underpin them, are highlighted. An emergent body of cognitive research, contextualized within the principles and paradigms of cognitive neuropsychology rather than social learning theory, is presented which, it is argued, addresses these anomalies and problems. Evidence is presented that biases in the processing of addiction-related stimuli, and in the network of propositions which motivate addictive behaviours, occur at automatic, implicit and pre-conscious levels of awareness. It is suggested that methods which assess such implicit cognitive biases (e.g. Stroop, memory, priming and reaction-time paradigms) yield findings which have better predictive utility for ongoing behaviour than those biases determined by self-report methods of introspection. The potential utility of these findings for understanding "loss of control" phenomena, and the desynchrony between reported beliefs and intentions and ongoing addictive behaviours, is discussed. Applications to the practice of cognitive therapy are considered.

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