Current Projects

Approach-Avoidance Tendencies for Addictive Stimuli (UCONN IRB # H18-016)

  • Repeated engagement in addictive behaviors may lead to approach bias, or a relatively automatic behavioral tendency to approach rather than avoid addiction-related stimuli
  • Previous research has shown that approach bias for addictive stimuli may contribute to the maintenance of addictive behaviors. In our lab,
  • We have investigated approach bias for several types of addictive stimuli using a computerized Approach-Avoidance Task (AAT), which is a valid and realistic measure of approach and avoidance action tendencies. For instance, we previously found that heterosexual male and female undergraduates from UConn who use pornography demonstrate a significant approach bias for erotic stimuli compared to neutral stimuli on an AAT, whereby they are faster to move towards erotic images compared to moving away from erotic images (Sklenarik et al., 2019; Sklenarik et al., 2020).
  • Interestingly, however, we did not find an approach bias for cannabis-related stimuli (Sklenarik et al., 2022).
  • Currently, we are investigating approach-avoidance tendencies towards vaping-related and food stimuli among undergraduates at UConn.

    Impacts of a Novel Virtual Reality Intervention on E-Cigarette Dependence and Cravings (UCONN IRB # H20-0094)

    • Previously, our colleagues demonstrated that immersing smokers in a virtual reality (VR) environment in which they are instructed to search for and crush virtual cigarettes significantly improved smoking cessation and decreased nicotine dependence (Girard et al., 2009).
    • The goal of this study is to investigate the efficacy of a similar intervention in reducing e-cigarette dependence among college undergraduates at UConn.
    • The study consists of multiple VR sessions during which participants use an immersive head-mounted display and controllers to navigate a virtual environment filled with either 100 floating vapes or 100 floating tennis balls.
    • Participants are instructed to either (a) search for and destroy vapes or (b) search for and throw tennis balls using a virtual hand that mirrors the participant’s actual hand movements. Click here to see a demo video of the VR intervention.


    Effects of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) on Cannabis Cravings (UCONN IRB # H20-0105)

    • Growing evidence suggests that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a non-invasive form of electromagnetic brain stimulation used to modulate neural activity, may be useful in the treatment of addiction.
    • Previous research has demonstrated that excitatory rTMS applied to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) can significantly reduce cravings for addictive substances such as nicotine and alcohol.
    • Currently, we are investigating the effects of rTMS applied to DLPFC on cannabis cravings among undergraduates at UConn who may be at risk for a cannabis use disorder. This study is conducted at UConn’s Brain Imaging Research Center (

    Investigating Conditioned Place Preferences (CPP) for Addictive Stimuli in a Virtual Environment (UCONN IRB # H20-0125)

    • Conditioned place preference (CPP) is a classic paradigm used in nonhumans to assess the rewarding properties of a substance.
    • In a typical CPP, a rodent is administered a rewarding drug such as cocaine and then placed in a unique chamber for a short time. During the next session, the rodent is administered an inert substance such as saline and placed in a different chamber.
    • These pairings are often repeated multiple times to strengthen the relationship between the context and the presence or absence of reward. Following these conditioning pairings is a “test” session in which the animal is given free access to both chambers on a drug-
      free day.
    • Animals typically demonstrate a strong preference to dwell in the chamber where the drug was paired, even though that drug is no longer present.
    • Our lab has developed robust methodology to translate the CPP task in rodents to humans, and have shown across a number of studies that we can reliably induce a CPP (Astur et al, 2014; Astur et al, 2016a; Astur et al., 2016b).
    • Currently, we are investigating whether a CPP exists for a virtual room that previously contained addictive stimuli, or virtual cues related to alcohol, cannabis, or nicotine.

    Characterizing Gambling Behaviors in College-Aged Young Adults (UCONN IRB # L21-0012)

    • Despite the fact that gambling is prevalent and associated with adverse consequences, there is a lack of current research regarding the types of gambling that college students most often engage in.
    • Importantly, characterizing gambling behaviors in college students is a critical step in designing tailored interventions that aim to reduce risky gambling behaviors.
    • We aim to characterize gambling behaviors in a sample of college students from UConn using a survey that assesses engagement in different types of gambling, frequency and severity of gambling behaviors, motivation to change gambling behaviors, and urges to gamble.

    Previous Works