Psychologist wins prize for substance abuse research

A University of Liverpool researcher has been awarded the 2009 Spearman prize by the British Psychological Society for his pioneering research into the thought processes involved in addiction and substance abuse.

Dr Matt Field, from the University’s Department of Psychology, was recognised for the originality of his research, the impact of his research and the outstanding body of work he has published over the last eight years.

Dr Field’s most significant research study looked at the role of attention in alcohol craving.  Dr Field trained participants to either direct their attention towards or away from alcohol-related cues then measured their subsequent subjective craving and alcohol-seeking behaviour. 

The study found that an experimental manipulation of attention for alcohol-related cues (e.g. photos of people drinking) led to increased alcohol cravings and alcohol consumption, thus demonstrating the key role of attention in craving and drug-seeking behaviour.  This was the very first study to demonstrate that attentional bias could have a casual influence on addictive behaviour.

Professor Ian Donald, Head of Psychology said:  “Dr Field has produced a substantial and important body of genuinely innovative research, which has had a major impact and continues to contribute enormously to our theoretical models of addictive behaviour.”

Dr Field joined the University of Liverpool in 2004 and has published several papers on implicit cognitive biases in cannabis users, with a more substantial body of work investigating attentional bias for alcohol and smoking cues in heavy drinkers and tobacco smokers.

On receiving his award from the British Psychological Society, Dr Field said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be selected as the recipient of the 2009 Spearman Medal.  I am planning on exploring the development of cognitive processing biases and their relationship to drug-seeking behaviour in more detail and through this gain a clearer understanding of the mechanisms through which cognitive processes can be altered by, and can cause, drug use”.


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