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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The effect of alcohol on emotional inertia: A test of alcohol myopia.

Alcohol myopia (AM) has emerged as one of the most widely researched theories of alcohol’s effects on emotional experience. Given this theory’s popularity, it is notable that a central tenet of AM has not been tested—namely, that alcohol creates a myopic focus on the present moment, limiting the extent to which the present is permeated by emotions derived from prior experience.

We tested the impact of alcohol on moment-to-moment fluctuations in affect, applying advances in emotion assessment and statistical analysis to test this aspect of AM without drawing the attention of participants to their own emotional experiences. We measured emotional fluctuations using autocorrelation, a statistic borrowed from time-series analysis measuring the correlation between successive observations in time. High emotion autocorrelation is termed emotional inertia and is linked to negative mood outcomes. Social drinkers (N = 720) consumed alcohol, placebo, or control beverages in groups of 3 over a 36-min group formation task. We indexed affect using the Duchenne smile, recorded continuously during the interaction (34.9 million video frames) according to the Facial Action Coding System (P. Ekman, W. V. Friesen, & J. C. Hager, 2002).

Autocorrelation of Duchenne smiling emerged as the most consistent predictor of self-reported mood and social bonding when compared with Duchenne smiling mean, standard deviation, and linear trend. Alcohol reduced affective autocorrelation, and autocorrelation mediated the link between alcohol and self-reported mood and social outcomes.

Findings suggest that alcohol enhances the ability to freely enjoy the present moment untethered by past experience and highlight the importance of emotion dynamics in research examining affective correlates of psychopathology.

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