The role of visual imagery in craving
This thesis tests a new theory of craving: The Elaborated-Intrusion Theory of Desire. The theory incorporates aspects of current conditioning, neurophysiological and cognitive theories and expands on existing knowledge of craving. The theory suggests that human desire involves intrusive thoughts and elaborated cognitions and also introduces mental imagery as a key aspect of the craving episode. There are two broad areas of research conducted in this thesis. The first explored the subjective experience of craving using two questionnaire studies. The results from these questionnaire studies acknowledged the generality of craving, indicating that the subjective experience of desire was similar across different target substances and it confirmed that visual imagery was a component of craving. The second area of research focuses on this relationship between visual imagery and craving. Experiments 1 to 3 tested visual imagery and working memory manipulations in deprived and continuing smokers. They provide empirical support for the hypothesis that craving can be reduced by a concurrent task that selectively loads the cognitive processes involved in generating and maintaining an image of the craved substance. The final experiment was an intervention study testing the potential for using visual imagery methods to manage cravings outside the laboratory. However, the visual imagery task did reduce smoking behaviour over a one-week 'treatment' period in a group of smokers wanting to quit, an auditory imagery task had a similar effect. The results overall support the contention of the EI theory that visual imagery is a key component in desire. Despite the equivocal results of Experiment 4, the findings highlight the potential for imagery interventions to help manage craving in therapeutic setting.