Year of Publication

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Mark T. Fillmore

Abstract

The phenomenon of attentional bias to alcohol, where drinkers demonstrate a preference in allocating visual attention towards alcohol-related stimuli rather than neutral stimuli, is well-established. Studies detecting this phenomenon typically utilize computer-administered stimulus presentation tasks such as the visual dot probe task. Despite their frequency of use, these tasks do not represent the ways in which individuals typically encounter alcohol outside of the laboratory. Typical environments where alcohol is present allow individuals to move about freely and encounter alcohol while also being exposed to many other stimuli. This dissertation sought to implement a novel approach to assessing attentional bias in vivo, and identify how alcohol consumption might influence such in vivo attentional bias. This two-study dissertation utilized an in vivo task where participants looked freely around a room representing a recreational setting containing numerous objects while portable eye-tracking glasses monitored what an individual looked at and for how long. Target items of alcohol and neutral beverages were placed throughout the environment and fixation time spent on these objects was recorded. The first study of this dissertation examined attentional bias to alcohol-related objects across two identical testing sessions to understand the impact of novelty on allocation of in vivo attention. The second study tested individuals using the same in vivo assessment following a 0.30 g/kg dose of alcohol, a 0.65 g/kg dose of alcohol and a placebo. Participants also completed the visual dot probe task in order to measure and compare their attentional bias in a more traditionally implemented task to the novel in vivo approach. Results from the first study indicate that as the novelty of stimuli begins to wane and habituation to neutral stimuli occurs, attentional bias to alcohol-related objects emerges. This attentional bias was shown to be related to drinking habits, where heavier drinkers demonstrated increased attentional bias. The second study in this research found no discernible effect of alcohol consumption on in vivo attentional bias, but did identify a satiating effect of consumption on bias as measured by the visual dot probe task. Additional visual dot probe findings suggest the specificity of the effect of alcohol consumption on attentional bias. Together, these findings help inform whether there is benefit in utilizing an ecological model of measuring attentional bias and how the phenomenon might be measured in laboratory settings in the future.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2018.352

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