Effects of alcohol consumption and alcohol susceptibility on cognition: A psychophysiological examination

Bruce D. Bartholow, Melanie Pearson, Kenneth J. Sher, Leighann C. Wieman, Monica Fabiani, Gabriele Gratton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study sought to examine acute effects of alcohol on cognitive processing and performance within the context of two prominent theories of alcohol's effects; namely, that alcohol restricts the focus of attention (e.g. Steele and Josephs, 1990. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97, 196-205) and that alcohol impairs response inhibition (e.g. Fillmore and Vogel-Sprott, 1999. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 7, 49-55; Fillmore and Vogel-Sprott, 2000. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 61, 239-246). Forty-five participants were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo level of alcohol (0.04 g/kg), a moderate dose (0.40 g/kg), or a higher dose (0.80 g/kg). Brain electrical activity (ERPs) and behavioral responses (reaction time and accuracy) were measured while participants performed a modified flanker task, in which a target letter was flanked by response-compatible or response-incompatible letters. Analyses of behavioral data showed that alcohol increased response competition in accuracy but not response times, suggesting that alcohol influences response selection more than attentional processes per se. This finding is in-line with predictions derived from the response inhibition model. ERP latency data provided mixed support for both models. ERP amplitude data showed that the high dose of alcohol primarily influenced a mostly frontal negativity in the ERP, present on both correct and incorrect response trials. Differences in self-reported susceptibility to alcohol were most evident in the amplitude of the P3 component. Findings are discussed in terms of the differential effects of acute dose and susceptibility on information processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-190
Number of pages24
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 2003


  • Alcohol
  • Alcohol susceptibility
  • Cognition
  • ERPs
  • Response inhibition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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