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Villanova Psychology Professor Receives NIH Grant from National Institute on Drug Abuse

Findings Could Eventually Alter How Drug Abuse is Treated

VILLANOVA, Pa.— In the 1890s, Ivan Pavlov trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, and established what the field now knows as classical conditioning. Today in Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Matthew Matell, PhD, professor of Psychology, is delving deeper into this truism and applying it to his most recent grant-funded research.

Dr. Matell specializes in behavioral neuroscience and how the brain measures time. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—an organization within the National Institute of Health (NIH)—has supported his research for more than a decade and recently awarded him a three-year grant for $390,066 to study the “Temporal Modulation of ‘Wanting’ and ‘Liking.’”

With this grant, Dr. Matell is asking the question, “How do temporal expectations directly influence the processes underlying addiction?”

Since Pavlov’s 19th century experiment, it’s also been well established that the time between a conditioned cue (the bell) and its predicted outcome (the food) affects the magnitude and timing of the conditioned behavior (the salvation).

In other words, “If we increase the time between the cue and the outcome, the time at which maximal conditioned responding occurs gets later and the strength of the association gets weaker,” says Dr. Matell. But this concept has been largely ignored in models of drug addiction.

Most current research models of drug addiction focus on relapse and why it is so prevalent, despite the person’s admitted aversion to taking drugs again. These models agree that that drug-associated cues, or triggers, promote cravings, and subsequently can lead to relapse.

Dr. Matell hypothesizes that the time between a drug-associated cue and receiving the drug is learned implicitly, and his research will explore how this temporal expectation affects drug cravings, both physiologically and behaviorally.

“If we find out that these cravings are temporally sensitive, we can alter the way in which we approach treatment,” said Matell. “That’s the pie in the sky idea.”

Villanova’s commitment to fostering teacher-scholars allows undergraduate and graduate students to take part in cutting-edge research. Dr. Matell welcomes such partners in his lab and anticipates students will have the opportunity to learn from and be a part of this innovative study made possible by the NIDA’s three-year grant.

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences:  Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world.  With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit