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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Implicit priming of conflicting motivational orientations in heavy drinkers

Samantha Baker12, Joanne M Dickson1 and Matt Field13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, L69 7ZA, UK

2 Lancashire Care Foundation Trust, Preston, UK

3 UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS), Liverpool, UK

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BMC Psychology 2014, 2:28  doi:10.1186/s40359-014-0028-1

Published: 19 August 2014



Approach and avoidance motivation for alcohol are relatively independent, and they operate in both automatic (or implicit) and controlled processes. In this study, we adapted methods previously used in the appetite literature and implicitly primed an alcohol-related motivational orientation (approach or avoidance) in order to investigate its influence on the opposing motivational orientation, in a group of non-dependent heavy drinkers.


Participants (N = 110) completed computerised measures of attentional bias and avoidance for alcohol cues (visual probe task) and behavioural approach and avoidance for alcohol cues (Stimulus–response Compatibility (SRC) task). Word primes were subliminally presented during each trial of these tasks. Participants were randomly allocated to groups that were exposed to alcohol-appetitive primes, alcohol-aversive primes, or neutral primes.


Contrary to hypotheses, word primes had no effect on responding during the visual probe or SRC tasks. Supplementary analyses revealed that participants showed attentional avoidance of alcohol cues combined with slower behavioural avoidance responses to alcohol cues. Attentional bias was positively correlated with scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.


In contrast to previous findings from the appetite domain, our findings suggest that automatic alcohol cognitions are unaffected by implicit priming of motivational orientations, although features of our novel methodology may account for these results.

Alcohol; Ambivalence; Approach tendencies; Attentional bias; Implicit cognition; Priming