Altered economic decision-making in abstinent heroin addicts: Evidence from the ultimatum game.Neurosci Lett. 2016 08 03; 627:148-54.NL
The development and persistence of drug addiction has been suggested to involve decision-making deficits. The Ultimatum Game is a widely used economic decision-making paradigm that illustrates the tension between financial self-interest and fairness motives. The behavior of responders in the Ultimatum Game has been associated with emotional reactions and cognitive control abilities, both of which are dysregulated in drug addicts. In this study, we investigated whether this economic decision-making process that involves considerations of social norms is affected by heroin addiction.
Heroin addicts (n=17) and demographically matched healthy control subjects (n=18) were recruited to play the part of responders in the Ultimatum Game, during which they decided to accept or reject the monetary offers proposed by strangers. The offers were manipulated by varying the stake sizes and fairness scales. The rejection rates of all of the offer categories, response times, fairness judgments, and impulsivity were compared between heroin addicts and healthy controls.
Compared with healthy subjects, the rejection rates of most unfair offers in the Ultimatum Game were significantly higher under low-offer-size conditions among heroin addicts. In contrast, the most unfair offers were more likely to be accepted by heroin addicts in the high-offer-size condition than by healthy subjects. The ratings of unfairness were equal in both conditions although the rejection rates were different. Heroin addicts had higher scores on BIS attentional/cognitive impulsivity and non-planning impulsivity, but not in motor impulsivity. Rejection rates to most unfair offers under low-offer-size conditions significantly correlated with score on BIS non-planning impulsivity and total score of impulsivity.
Heroin addicts differentially responded under different stake-level conditions in the Ultimatum Game, with emotional impulses in low-offer-size conditions and selfish motives in the face of high monetary reward. These findings indicate that Ultimatum Game may be associated with heroin addiction and provide a productive new target for enhancing treatment for heroin addiction.