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Friday, December 30, 2011

Ego depletion increases ad-lib alcohol consumption: Investigating cognitive mediators and moderators.

When self-control resources are depleted (“ego depletion”), alcohol-seeking behavior becomes closely associated with automatic alcohol-related processing biases (e.g., Ostafin, Marlatt, & Greenwald, 2008).

The current study aimed to replicate and extend these findings, and also to investigate whether the effects of ego depletion on drinking behavior would be mediated by temporary impairments in executive function or increases in impulsivity.

Eighty heavy social drinkers (46 female) initially completed measures of automatic approach tendencies (stimulus response compatibility [SRC] task) and attentional bias (visual probe task) elicited by alcohol-related cues. Participants were then exposed to either an ego depletion manipulation or a control manipulation, before completing a bogus taste test in order to assess ad-lib alcohol consumption. In a subsequent testing session, we examined effects of the ego depletion manipulation (vs. control manipulation) on 3 aspects of executive function (inhibitory control, phonemic fluency, and delay discounting).

Results indicated that the ego depletion manipulation increased ad-lib drinking, relative to the control manipulation. Automatic approach tendencies, but not attentional bias, predicted ad-lib drinking, although this effect was not moderated by ego depletion.

Ego depletion had inconsistent effects on measures of executive function and impulsivity, and none of these measures mediated the effect of ego depletion on ad-lib drinking. However, the effect of ego depletion on ad-lib drinking was mediated by self-reported effort in suppressing emotion and thoughts during the manipulation.

Implications for the effects of self-control strength on drinking behavior, and cognitive mediators of these effects, are discussed.

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