Thirty-six non-problem drinker and thirty-five problem drinker undergraduate students completed a modified alcohol go/no-go task using alcohol and neutral object pictures, with or without brand logos, as stimuli. An additional control experiment was carried out to check whether participants’ awareness that the study tested their response to alcohol might have biased the results.
All participants, whether problem or non-problem drinkers, showed significantly shorter mean reaction times when alcohol pictures are used as go stimuli and significantly higher percentages of commission errors (false alarms) when alcohol pictures are used as no-go stimuli. Identical effects were obtained in the control experiment when participants were unaware that the study focused on alcohol. Shorter reaction times to alcohol-related cues were observed in problem drinkers relative to non-problem drinkers but only in the experimental condition with no brand logos on alcohol pictures. The addition of alcohol brand logos further reduced reaction times in light drinkers, thereby masking group differences. There was a tendency for female problem drinkers to show higher rates of false alarms for alcohol no-go stimuli, although this effect was only very close to statistical significance.
All participants exhibited a cognitive bias in the treatment of alcohol cues that might be related to the positive emotional value of such alcohol-related cues. Stronger cognitive biases in the treatment of alcohol cues were observed in problem drinkers, although differences between problem and non-problem drinkers were relatively small-scale and required specific experimental parameters to be uncovered. In particular, the presence of alcohol brand logos on visual alcohol cues was an important experimental parameter that significantly affected behavioral responses to such stimuli.
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