Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Marina Bornovalova, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen Stark, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Geoffrey Potts, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Schlauch, Ph.D.


EEG, general, ERPs, wanting, liking


Earlier ages of alcohol initiation have been associated with an increased vulnerability for Alcohol Use Disorder and general risk taking behaviors beyond genetic influence. Reward processes, including reward anticipation (pleasure before receiving alcohol/general reward), reward learning (how quickly one pairs a stimulus with alcohol/general reward), and reward consummation (pleasure when receiving alcohol/general reward), have been implicated as potential mechanisms accounting for this vulnerability. However, no careful bio-behavioral research has been conducted on the effect of age of alcohol initiation on general and alcohol-related reward processes. Using Event Related Potentials (ERPs), the current study addressed this gap in a sample of 123 current alcohol drinkers. The Monetary Incentive Delay-General task and Monetary Incentive Delay-Alcohol task were administered to participants, in which reward learning (quickness of pairing the neutral cue or alcohol cue with monetary feedback), reward anticipation (activity to neutral cue or alcohol cue), and reward consummation (activity to monetary feedback) were examined. Electroencephalography was used to collect ERPs that index reward anticipation (P3) and reward consummation (P3 and Late Positive Potential) during these tasks. Earlier ages of alcohol initiation were associated with increased alcohol-related reward learning and decreased alcohol-related reward consummation (P3 and Late Positive Potential) beyond genetic and environmental covariates. There were no other significant relationships. These findings support and extend alcohol theories by showing that earlier ages of alcohol initiation may foster a greater sensitization in alcohol-specific reward-learning and more pronounced decreases in alcohol-related consummation. Although in need of direct testing, this might explain why earlier ages of alcohol initiation are associated with an increased vulnerability to Alcohol Use Disorder.

Included in

Psychology Commons