Memory affects behavior by allowing events to be anticipated and goals to be planned based on previous experiences. Emotional memory, in particular, is thought to play a central role in behavior in general and in drinking behavior in particular. Alcohol intoxication has been shown to disrupt intentional, conscious memory, but not unintentional, implicit memory for neutral stimuli; however, its effects on emotional memory are not well understood. This study examined whether alcohol intoxication affected memory for emotionally valenced stimuli by testing explicit recall and implicit repetition priming of emotional picture cues.
Participants were 36 young adults (21–24 years old, 16 women) who received an alcohol, placebo, or no-alcohol beverage. Both cue exposure and memory testing occurred after beverage consumption (i.e., during intoxication for the alcohol group).
Alcohol intoxication impaired explicit recall of all cue types but did not impair implicit repetition priming. Emotionally negative and positive cues were more often recalled compared with neutral cues across all beverage groups, and emotionally negative cues demonstrated more priming than emotionally positive or neutral cues in all beverage groups.
Alcohol intoxication disrupted effortful recall of all cues, although the relative memory advantage of emotionally valenced over-neutral stimuli remained even after drinking. The effects of alcohol on unintentional memory priming were not statistically significant, but the effects of emotionally negative cues were. Further research is needed to better understand alcohol intoxication and emotional valence effects on memory processes during implicit memory tasks and the possibility that negative mood facilitates memory priming of negative emotional stimuli.
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