Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer: A new paradigm to assess pathological mechanisms with regard to the use of Internet applications

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HighlightsTheories of addiction stress the role of conditioned cues on instrumental responses.We developed a paradigm with cues related to Internet gaming and Internet shopping.Instrumental responding increased in the presence of conditioned cues.Severity of Internet gaming affected acquisition of the conditioned response.The strength of outcome-specific expectancies affected the ‘gaming PIT’-Effect.At present, there is a considerable lack of human studies that investigated the impact of conditioned cues on instrumental responding although these processes are considered as core mechanisms contributing to the development and maintenance of addictive behaviours. No studies are available that assessed these processes with regard to Internet gaming or Internet shopping applications.We thus developed a Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT)-Paradigm implementing appetitive stimuli related to Internet gaming and Internet shopping applications and investigated whether an outcome-specific PIT-Effect is observed. In addition, we assessed whether the problematic use of gaming or shopping applications, personality traits and stress would affect the acquisition of knowledge of the experimental contingencies during Pavlovian training and the impact of conditioned stimuli on instrumental responding.A PIT-Paradigm, screenings for Internet gaming disorder and Internet shopping disorder (s-IAT), and questionnaires on personality traits (NEO-FFI, BIS-15) and perceived stress (PSQ20) were administered to sixty-six participants.The PIT-Paradigm demonstrated the effects of stimuli conditioned to rewards related to Internet gaming and Internet shopping applications on instrumental responding to obtain such rewards. Findings also indicated that severity of problematic Internet gaming, but not Internet shopping, contributed to the acquisition of knowledge of the experimental contingencies. Stress, extraversion, neuroticism and gender emerged as further predictors. The strength of expectancy of the different reinforcers affected the ‘gaming PIT’-Effect; however, none of the variables assessed in the present study showed any effect on the ‘shopping PIT’-Effect. Future studies including participants with pathological use patterns that can be classified as internet use disorder are warranted to extend these findings.

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