Using Future-Oriented Expectancy Associates to Probe Real-Time Variations in Motivation to Consume Alcohol

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An extensive empirical and theoretical literature has characterized anticipatory/expectancy processes as integral to motivation, including motivation to consume alcohol. To examine whether these processes could be probed on a moment to moment basis as they activate to motivate near term drinking, we sampled future-oriented expectancy verbal associates (i.e., self-generated words) using an ecological momentary assessment (EMA) paradigm every 3 hr on 3 days of the week (2 days of likely drinking and 1 of low drinking likelihood). Expectancy associates were chosen because cognitive psychologists consider verbal items collected in this manner a part-way approach to measurement of automatic/implicit processes. Consistent with predictions, more positively valenced alcohol expectancies activated within a few hours preceding increased alcohol consumption, and this activation could be statistically distinguished from the influence of a wide array of other variables known to predict consumption, including autocorrelation. As previously observed, more positively valenced alcohol expectancies were activated in alcohol-related environments. These findings provide further evidence that anticipatory information processing is engaged for the direction of future behavior, and that probing expectancies in real-time can be useful for predicting near-term alcohol consumption.

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