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TU Berlin

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"Learning & Decision Making as Predictors of the Development & Maintenance of Alcoholism"

Abstract

This project will clinically examine and characterize 200 young adult men and women aged 18 to 21 with high versus low risk to develop alcoholism (100 family history positive versus 100 family history negative subjects). Psychosocial status, alcohol intake (Hinckers et al., 2006) as well as test performance with respect to learning and decision making will be assessed on a yearly basis for 5 prospective years. This project therefore ensures both 1) clinical data collection for further imaging and genetic studies, and 2) assessment of the interaction between social orientation/exclusion stress and quality of learning and decision making (Lefrancois & Leppmann, 1994; Bandura 1977).
Standardized instruments will be applied to measure peer orientation and perceived peer pressure (Santor et al., 2000), the individual need of belonging (Leary et al., 2001), as well as the degree of rejection sensitivity (Downey & Feldman, 1996): We will thus create a typology of social orientation with cluster-analyses characterizing participants as either peer- (PO), authority-oriented (AO), or self-centered (SC). Selected participants of each of the social orientation clusters will then play the computer game Cyberball (Williams, Cheung, & Choi, 2000), which is designed to artificially create a situation of social rejection. Perceived stress, well-being, as well as strategies of coping including alcohol craving and expectancy of alcohol effects will be measured before and after the game. To investigate the relation between social orientation and learning, we have designed a new way of the classic experiment "Tower of Hanoi": in a room with three tables lined up, the participant has to identify the right problem-solving strategy. There are two other tables, each with one person marked as authority and one marked as peer, and video analyses (Noldus-Software) will be used to assess the frequency and duration of eye contact/observation and to determine whether peer-oriented and authority-oriented individuals prefer to imitate even „wrong" behavior rather than deciding and acting independently. The ultimate goal is to associate a client's social learning biography with clinical test performance and drinking behavior.

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