A wealth of research indicates that heavy social drinkers demonstrate attentional bias towards alcohol-related stimuli. Many studies, however, employ experimental tasks that expose drinkers to single-stimulus targets (e.g., anti-saccade task), which is not akin to a real life environment whereby multiple alcoholic and non-alcoholic cues are simultaneously present. In a novel approach, the current study adapted a visual search task to examine attentional bias towards alcohol.Thirty participants performed a visual conjunction search task, which recorded both eye movements and behavioural responses. They also completed self-report measures of alcohol consumption and trait effortful control. During experimental trials, participants searched for an alcohol-related target (i.e., beer bottle) in an array of either appetitive non-alcoholic (water) or non-appetitive non-alcoholic distractors (detergent). In control trials, they searched for non-alcoholic appetitive and non-appetitive targets in an array of alcoholic distractors. Results suggest that participants identify alcoholic and non-alcoholic targets quicker than non-alcoholic,non-appetitive targets. Moreover, they demonstrate attentional bias towards alcoholic stimuli, with slower detection of non-appetitive targets when the distractor is alcoholic, and faster detection of alcoholic stimuli when the distractor is non-appetitive.
In real life environments, such as pubs and bars, people may be drawn to alcohol-related cues; attentional bias may therefore be one mechanism driving alcohol consumption behaviours.
Pennington, C. R., Qureshi, A. W., Monk, R. L., & Heim, D. (2018, October). Beer? Over here! Examining attentional bias towards alcohol in a visual search eye-tracking task. Poster presented at Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) Annual Meeting