Many theoretical perspectives suggest that alcohol-related stimuli bear on attentional processes. Building upon these ideas and recent advances regarding the attention-constricting impact of approach motivational states, we predicted that mere exposure to alcohol-related images would suffice to reduce the breadth of attention among individuals who possessed a strong motivation to consume alcohol.
Two studies exposed participants to alcohol and neutral cues prior to assessing attention structure. In both studies, measures of alcohol use, negative alcohol expectancies, trait approach motivation, and alcohol-related approach motivation were assessed.
Study 1 comprised of 102 undergraduates and Study 2 comprised of 162 undergraduates. Studies were conducted at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.
In both studies, participants were briefly exposed to pictures of various stimuli (alcohol vs. neutral pictures). After each picture was displayed, participants completed a trial assessing attentional focus.
After controlling for relevant covariates, both studies demonstrated that exposure to alcohol-related pictures led to a narrowing of attentional focus among individuals who possessed a strong motivation to use alcohol. Exposure to neutral pictures, however, did not interact with alcohol-related motivation to influence attentional focus.
Alcohol cues narrow attentional breadth for individuals who are motivated to consume alcohol, suggesting a non-pharmacological means in which alcohol produces a narrow mindset. Alcohol cues may contribute to cognitive and behavioral deficits, as well as drinking behaviors, in part, because they lead to the inability to process a broad range of information in the environment.
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