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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Persistence of attentional bias toward alcohol-related stimuli in intoxicated social drinkers

Although attentional bias to alcohol-related stimuli has been identified as a potentially important factor in initiating a drinking episode, little is known about whether it persists once drinking has begun. Chief among the measures of attentional bias is the visual probe task, which requires the ability to respond quickly and fixate on objects. Alcohol is well recognized for impairing both of these abilities, which could undermine the reliable detection of attentional bias in intoxicated individuals. The purpose of the present study was to determine if attentional bias toward alcohol-related images can still be observed under alcohol even at blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) sufficient to disrupt reaction time (RT) and basic ocular functions.

The present study employed a within-subject design to test the effects of three doses of alcohol (0.0g/kg, 0.32g/kg, and 0.64g/kg) on attentional bias toward alcohol-related images in a group of 20 social drinkers using a visual probe task. Alcohol's effects on simple RT and ocular functions were also assessed.

Attentional bias was observed by participants’ fixations toward alcohol-related stimuli following alcohol administration. Alcohol also impaired oculomotor functions as evident by decreased accuracy and speed of saccades.

The findings indicate that attentional bias can be detected even at BACs above 80mg/100ml that disrupt oculomotor functions that are considered fundamental to visual search tasks.

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