Where to Look? Alcohol, Affect, and Gaze Behavior During a Virtual Social Interaction

Talia Ariss, Catharine E. Fairbairn, Michael A. Sayette, Brynne A. Velia, Howard Berenbaum, Sarah Brown-Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


COVID-19 forced social interactions to move online. Yet researchers have little understanding of the mental-health consequences of this shift. Given pandemic-related surges in emotional disorders and problematic drinking, it becomes imperative to understand the cognitive and affective processes involved in virtual interactions and the impact of alcohol in virtual social spaces. Participants (N = 246) engaged in an online video call while their gaze behavior was tracked. Before the interaction, participants were randomly assigned to receive an alcoholic or control beverage. Participants’ affect was repeatedly assessed. Results indicated that a proportionally larger amount of time spent gazing at oneself (vs. one’s interaction partner) predicted significantly higher negative affect after the exchange. Furthermore, alcohol independently increased self-directed attention, failing to demonstrate its typically potent social-affective enhancement in this virtual context. Results carry potential implications for understanding factors that increase risk for hazardous drinking and negative affect in an increasingly virtual world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)239-252
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Psychological Science
Issue number2
StateE-pub ahead of print - Nov 14 2022


  • addictive disorders
  • affect
  • drug/substance use
  • eye movements
  • social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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