Working Memory Capacity Moderates the Predictive Effects of Drug-Related Associations on Substance Use

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Some theories suggest that spontaneously activated, drug-related associations in memory may have a “freer reign” in predicting drug use among individuals with lower working memory capacity. This study evaluated this hypothesis among 145 at-risk youth attending continuation high schools (CHS). This is the 1st study to evaluate this type of dual-process interaction in the prediction of drug use among a sample of at-risk adolescents. The CHS students completed assessments of drug-related memory associations, working memory capacity, and drug use. Control variables included age, gender, ethnicity, and acculturation. Robust multiple regression using least trimmed squares estimation indicated that there was a significant linear by linear interaction between working memory capacity (assessed with the self-ordered pointing task) and drug-related associations (assessed with verb generation and cue-behavior association tasks) in the prediction of alcohol and cigarette use. Consistent with dual-process cognitive theories, drug-related associations in memory predicted drug use more strongly in students with lower levels of working memory capacity. These findings add to the literature implicating the influence of dual cognitive processes in adolescent risk behaviors.

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