This project seeks to directly examine the neurophysiological and behavioral correlates of the relation between alcohol sensitivity, repeated heavy drinking, and approach motivation towards alcohol cues within an Incentive Sensitization Theory framework. Method One hundred eighteen participants varying in alcohol sensitivity (i.e., high and low sensitivity) will complete two experimental tasks designed to assess variation in specific processes proposed by the Incentive Sensitization Theory of Addiction. Participants will first complete a paired association learning task designed to measure the degree to which incentive salience shifts from an overt alcohol-related cue (i.e., odor of favorite alcoholic beverage;US) to a neutral, previously unassociated predictive cue (i.e., a colored shape;CS), while event-related potentials (ERPs) are recorded. In particular, the SPN component of the ERP represents a neural manifestation of anticipatory approach motivation, which will provide an implicit measure of inter- individual variability in the development of incentive sensitization to the CS. Implicit behavioral approach towards predictive cues will then be assessed in the laboratory using an Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT). Specifically, CS cues from the paired association learning task will be measured in the context of a reaction time task in which participants variously push and pull a joystick depending on the tilt (right or left) of te shape (Wiers et al., 2009) in order to assess whether changes in affective-motivational anticipatory ERP responses are associated with differences in behavioral response. Typical alcohol use, alcohol-related problems, alcohol dependence features, family history of alcoholism, and personality measures will be assessed in the lab and examined as potential moderators of effects assessed with laboratory tasks. Long-Term Objectives Results from this project will inform research on alcohol sensitivity as an individual difference factor important to problematic alcohol use patterns and to the development of alcohol addiction. The applicant's long-term goal is to develop a program of research focused on parsing and understanding the specific neural and behavioral changes that occur during the transition from casual drinking to problematic, clinically impairing drinking among low sensitivity individuals. Training Aims The fellowship applicant will receive training in research methodologies relevant to the field of addiction science, advanced analysis of EEG and multivariate data, and will gain experience communicating findings from this study to appropriate scientific audiences through conference presentations and submission of manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals. Having these experiences will prepare the applicant for a career using translational research to study neurophysiological and phenotypic risk factors for the development of risky drinking behaviors and alcohol use disorders.

Public Health Relevance

Much research points to low sensitivity to the subjective effects of alcohol as a risk factor for the development of alcohol use disorders (AUDs), with previous work showing that low sensitivity individuals exhibit enhanced brain responses to alcohol-related cues, a marker of incentive sensitization and increased risk. This research represents the first effort to explicitly link low sensitivity and incentive sensitization in human subjects. Understanding the mechanisms underlying these processes will have important implications for theoretical models of alcohol abuse and dependence and the development of prevention efforts.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
Program Officer
Witt, Ellen
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Missouri-Columbia
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Richmond-Rakerd, Leah S; Fleming, Kimberly A; Slutske, Wendy S (2016) Investigating Progression in Substance Use Initiation Using a Discrete-Time Multiple Event Process Survival Mixture (MEPSUM) Approach. Clin Psychol Sci 4:167-182
Fleming, Kimberly A; Bartholow, Bruce D; Hilgard, Joseph et al. (2016) The Alcohol Sensitivity Questionnaire: Evidence for Construct Validity. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 40:880-8
Fleming, Kimberly A; Heintzelman, Samantha J; Bartholow, Bruce D (2016) Specifying Associations Between Conscientiousness and Executive Functioning: Mental Set Shifting, Not Prepotent Response Inhibition or Working Memory Updating. J Pers 84:348-60
Ellingson, Jarrod M; Fleming, Kimberly A; Vergés, Alvaro et al. (2014) Working memory as a moderator of impulsivity and alcohol involvement: testing the cognitive-motivational theory of alcohol use with prospective and working memory updating data. Addict Behav 39:1622-31