Year of Publication

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Mark Fillmore

Abstract

Selective attention towards alcohol-related cues (i.e., “attentional bias”) is thought to reflect increased incentive motivational value of alcohol and alcohol cues acquired through a history of heavy alcohol use, and as such attentional bias is considered to be a clinically relevant factor contributing to alcohol use disorders. This dissertation consists of two studies that investigated specific mechanisms through which attentional bias might serve to promote alcohol abuse. Study 1 compared magnitude of attentional bias in heavy (n = 20) and light (n = 20) drinkers following placebo and two doses of alcohol (0.45 g/kg and 0.65 g/kg). Heavy drinkers displayed significantly greater attentional bias than did moderate drinkers following placebo. However, heavy drinkers displayed a dose-dependent decrease in response to alcohol. Individual differences in attentional bias under placebo were associated with both self-reported and laboratory alcohol consumption, yet bias following alcohol administration did not predict either measure of consumption. These findings suggest that attentional bias is strongest before a drinking episode begins, and as such might be most influential in terms of initiation of alcohol consumption. Study 2 addressed theoretical accounts regarding potential reciprocal interactions between attentional bias and inhibitory control that might promote excessive alcohol consumption. Fifty drinkers performed a measure of attentional bias and a novel task that measures the degree to which alcohol-related stimuli can increase behavioral activation and reduce the ability to inhibit inappropriate responses. As hypothesized, inhibitory failures were significantly greater following alcohol images compared to neutral images. Further, heightened attentional bias was associated with greater response activation following alcohol images. These findings suggest that alcohol stimuli serve to disrupt mechanisms of behavioral control, and that heightened attentional bias is associated with greater disruption of control mechanisms following alcohol images. Taken together, these studies provide strong evidence of an association between attentional bias in sober individuals and alcohol consumption, suggesting a pronounced role of attentional bias in initiation of consumption. Further, findings show that attention to alcohol cues can serve to disrupt mechanisms of inhibitory control that might be necessary to regulate drinking behavior, suggesting a potential means through which attentional bias might promote consumption.

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