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Monday, July 8, 2013

Acute Alcohol Consumption Impairs Controlled but Not Automatic Processes in a Psychophysical Pointing Paradigm

Numerous studies have investigated the effects of alcohol consumption on controlled and automatic cognitive processes. Such studies have shown that alcohol impairs performance on tasks requiring conscious, intentional control, while leaving automatic performance relatively intact.

Here, we sought to extend these findings to aspects of visuomotor control by investigating the effects of alcohol in a visuomotor pointing paradigm that allowed us to separate the influence of controlled and automatic processes. Six male participants were assigned to an experimental “correction” condition in which they were instructed to point at a visual target as quickly and accurately as possible. On a small percentage of trials, the target “jumped” to a new location. On these trials, the participants’ task was to amend their movement such that they pointed to the new target location.

A second group of 6 participants were assigned to a “countermanding” condition, in which they were instructed to terminate their movements upon detection of target “jumps”. In both the correction and countermanding conditions, participants served as their own controls, taking part in alcohol and no-alcohol conditions on separate days.

Alcohol had no effect on participants’ ability to correct movements “in flight”, but impaired the ability to withhold such automatic corrections.

Our data support the notion that alcohol selectively impairs controlled processes in the visuomotor domain.

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