October 31, 2020

A Virtual Reality setup for the combined assessment of behavioral and psychophysiological cue-reactivity in gambling disorder

Increased reactivity to addiction related cues (cue-reactivity) plays a critical role in the maintenance of addiction. Studies assessing cue-reactivity in gambling disorder often suffer from low ecological validity due to the usage of picture stimuli in a neutral lab environment. Here we describe a novel virtual reality (VR) set-up for the concurrent assessment of behavioral and psychophysiological cue-reactivity in gambling disorder. On two days, thirty-four healthy non-gambling participants explored two rich and navigable VR-environments (neutral: cafe vs. gambling-related: casino and sports-betting facility), while their electrodermal activity was measured using remote sensors. In addition, participants completed a temporal discounting task implemented in each VR environment. On a third day, participants performed the task in a standard lab testing context. We then used comprehensive computational modeling using both standard softmax and drift diffusion model (DDM) choice rules to assess the reliability of discounting model parameters assessed in VR. Test-retest reliability estimates were good to excellent for the discount rate log(k), whereas they were poor to moderate for additional DDM parameters. Differences in model parameters between standard lab testing and VR, reflecting reactivity to the different environments, were mostly numerically small and of inconclusive directionality. Finally, while exposure to VR generally increased tonic skin conductance, this effect was not modulated by the neutral vs. gambling-related VR-environment. Taken together this proof-of-concept study in non-gambling participants demonstrates the feasibility assessing both physiological and behavioral cue-reactivity in VR. We show that temporal discounting measures obtained in VR are reliable, suggesting that VR is a promising tool for an ecologically valid assessment of cue-reactivity in gambling disorder.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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