Differential sensitivity to learning from positive and negative outcomes in cocaine users

Justin C. Strickland, B. Levi Bolin, Joshua A. Lile, Craig R. Rush, William W. Stoops

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background Altered sensitivity to positive and negative outcomes may be linked to the maladaptive choices characteristic of substance use disorders. Few studies have determined the distinct roles that positive and negative outcomes play in stimulus-response learning in cocaine users. The purpose of the present study was to investigate sensitivity to learning from positive and negative outcomes on a probabilistic learning task in cocaine users employing human laboratory and crowdsourcing techniques. Methods Individuals who reported cocaine use were recruited for a laboratory study (Experiment 1) or an online study on Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk (mTurk) (Experiment 2). All participants completed a feedback-based probabilistic learning task in which images were classified into categories (A versus B). Positive and negative outcomes were provided in a probabilistic manner on separate trials. Proportion of optimal responses and response times were recorded. Results Active cocaine users were less sensitive to learning from positive relative to negative outcomes. These effects were consistent across image type and session in the laboratory sample. Similarly, reduced sensitivity to learning from positive outcomes was observed in cocaine users on mTurk. Control participants did not show suboptimal performance following positive or negative outcomes. Conclusions This study extends the limited research on feedback-based learning in drug users by demonstrating reduced sensitivity to positive outcomes in cocaine users recruited in the human laboratory and online. Future studies on the clinical significance and mechanisms underlying this bias are needed to understand its relevance as a target for intervention development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-68
Number of pages8
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grant numbers R01 DA025032, DA032254, DA033394, R21 DA035481 (PI: CRR), R01 DA033364 (PI: JAL), and R01 DA036553, R21 DA034095, DA035376 (PI: WWS) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and internal funds from the University of Kentucky to JCS and WWS. These funding sources had no role in study design, data collection or analysis, or preparation and submission of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ireland Ltd


  • Bias
  • Decision-making
  • Drug
  • Internet
  • Probabilistic learning
  • mTurk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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