Development and Preliminary Validation of a Behavioral Task of Negative Reinforcement Underlying Risk-Taking and Its Relation to Problem Alcohol Use in College Freshmen

Academic Article


  • Background: A long line of theoretical and empirical evidence implicates negative reinforcement as a process underlying the etiology and maintenance of risky alcohol use behaviors from adolescence through emerging adulthood. However, the bulk of this literature has relied on self-report measures, and there is a notable absence of behavioral modes of assessments of negative reinforcement-based alcohol-related risk-taking. To address this clear gap in the literature, the current study presents the first published data on the reliability and validity of the Maryland Resource for the Behavioral Utilization of the Reinforcement of Negative Stimuli (MRBURNS), which is a modified version of the positive reinforcement-based Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART). Methods: Participants included a convenience sample of 116 college freshmen ever regular drinkers (aged 18 to 19) who completed both behavioral tasks; self-report measures of negative reinforcement/avoidance constructs and of positive reinforcement/appetitive constructs to examine convergent validity and discriminant validity, respectively; and self-report measures of alcohol use, problems, and motives to examine criterion validity. Results: The MRBURNS evidenced sound experimental properties and reliability across task trials. In support of convergent validity, risk-taking on the MRBURNS correlated significantly with negative urgency, difficulties in emotion regulation, and depressive and anxiety-related symptoms. In support of discriminant validity, performance on the MRBURNS was unrelated to risk-taking on the BART, sensation seeking, and trait impulsivity. Finally, pertaining to criterion validity, risk-taking on the MRBURNS was related to alcohol-related problems but not heavy episodic alcohol use. Notably, risk-taking on the MRBURNS was associated with negative reinforcement-based but not with positive reinforcement-based drinking motives. Conclusions: Data from this initial investigation suggest the utility of the MRBURNS as a behavioral measure of negative reinforcement-based risk-taking that can provide a useful complement to existing self-report measures to improve our understanding of the relationship between avoidant reinforcement processes and risky alcohol use. © 2012 by the Research Society on Alcoholism.
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    Author List

  • Macpherson L; Calvin NT; Richards JM; Guller L; Mayes LC; Crowley MJ; Daughters SB; Lejuez CW
  • Start Page

  • 950
  • End Page

  • 957
  • Volume

  • 36
  • Issue

  • 6