Cognitive modeling analysis reveals distinct effects of HIV and drug use on decision-making processes in women

Vassileva, J., Ahn, W.-Y., Weber, K., Busemeyer J. R., Gonzalez, R., Stout J. C., Cohen, M. 2013. PLoS ONE, 8(8), e68962.


Objective: Drug users and HIV-seropositive individuals often show deficits in decision-making; however the nature of these deficits is not well understood. Recent studies have employed computational modeling approaches to disentangle the psychological processes involved in decision-making. Although such approaches have been used successfully with a number of clinical groups including drug users, no study to date has used computational modeling to examine the effects of HIV on decision-making. In this study, we use this approach to investigate the effects of HIV and drug use on decisionmaking processes in women, who remain a relatively understudied population.

Method: Fifty-seven women enrolled in the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) were classified into one of four groups based on their HIV status and history of crack cocaine and/or heroin drug use (DU): HIV+/DU+ (n = 14); HIV+/DU2 (n = 17); HIV2/DU+ (n = 14); and HIV2/DU2 (n = 12). We measured decision-making with the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) and examined behavioral performance and model parameters derived from the best-fitting computational model of the IGT.

Results: Although groups showed similar behavioral performance, HIV and DU exhibited differential relationship to model parameters. Specifically, DU was associated with compromised learning/memory and reduced loss aversion, whereas HIV was associated with reduced loss aversion, but was not related to other model parameters.

Conclusions: Results reveal that HIV and DU have differential associations with distinct decision-making processes in women. This study contributes to a growing line of literature which shows that different psychological processes may underlie similar behavioral performance in various clinical groups and may be associated with distinct functional outcomes.