Interactive effects of approach motivational intensity and alcohol cues on the scope of perceptual attention


Aims Many theoretical perspectives suggest that alcohol-related stimuli bear on attentional processes. Building upon these ideas and recent advances regarding the attention-constricting impact of approach motivational states, we predicted that mere exposure to alcohol-related images would suffice to reduce the breadth of attention among individuals who possessed a strong motivation to consume alcohol. Design Two studies exposed participants to alcohol and neutral cues prior to assessing attention structure. In both studies, measures of alcohol use, negative alcohol expectancies, trait approach motivation and alcohol-related approach motivation were assessed. Setting and participants Study 1 comprised 102 undergraduates and study 2 comprised 161 undergraduates. Studies were conducted at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. Measurements In both studies, participants were briefly exposed to pictures of various stimuli (alcohol versus neutral pictures). After each picture was displayed, participants completed a trial assessing attentional focus. Findings After controlling for relevant covariates, both studies demonstrated that exposure to alcohol-related pictures led to a narrowing of attentional focus among individuals who possessed a strong motivation to use alcohol. Exposure to neutral pictures, however, did not interact with alcohol-related motivation to influence attentional focus. Conclusions Alcohol cues narrow attentional breadth for individuals who are motivated to consume alcohol, suggesting a non-pharmacological means in which alcohol produces a narrow mindset. Alcohol cues may contribute to cognitive and behavioral deficits, as well as drinking behaviors, in part, because they lead to the inability to process a broad range of information in the environment.