Individuals with alcoholism exhibit poor decision making as reflected by their continued alcohol use despite encountering problems and by low performance in laboratory tasks of decision making. Here, the authors investigated the relative contribution of several distinct processes of executive functions in performance on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT; A. Bechara, A. R. Damasio, H. Damasio, & S. W. Anderson, 1994) in recently detoxified individuals with alcoholism. Compared to matched healthy participants, individuals with alcoholism showed below-normal scores in the last 20 trials of the IGT as well as on other tasks of executive functions, specifically those assessing the capacity to manipulate information stored in working memory, detect abstract rules, or inhibit prepotent responses. Prepotent response inhibition best predicted performance in the late trials of the IGT, that is, when participants have likely acquired knowledge about the reward/punishment contingencies of the task. These results underline the important role that response inhibition plays in decision making, especially in risky situations, when knowledge of the probability of a given outcome becomes available (i.e. decisions under risk).
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