Cognitive neuroscience takes on alcohol

  • Alcohol is known to impair an individual's ability to control their behavior.
  • Impaired behavioral control is known to be a factor in accidents, anti-social acts, and binge drinking.
  • Psychologists from the areas of cognitive science and neuropsychology are jointly investigating the effects of alcohol on brain activity that is associated with behavioral control.
  • Findings show that specific cognitive processes, certain individual characteristics, and some environmental conditions can all influence alcohol's effects on behavioral control.
Traditionally, the holidays are a time for dusting once-a-year decorations, wrapping parcels, family gatherings, and personal reflections. The holiday season may also be a time when Uncle Jack or second cousin Terry have "a bit too much to drink" and end up in the punch bowl. Some of this behavior could be due to a brain-based lack of inhibition because of alcohol, but some of it could be due to an intentional lack of control while drinking. A study in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines how alcohol - through its effects on underlying cognitive processes - may effect someone's self-control in different ways.

"Drinkers can sometimes display foolish, inappropriate or harmful behavior that they would not exhibit when sober," said Muriel Vogel-Sprott, professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo and first author of the paper. "This is commonly attributed to the effects of alcohol, for example, explaining away the behavior by saying 'I couldn't stop myself' or 'I didn't mean it.'" Vogel-Sprott's paper was based on research presented at a symposium during the June 2000 Research Society on Alcoholism meeting in Denver. Researchers tested the effects of a moderate dose of alcohol (approximately two or three beers) on social drinkers' performance of a task. The objective was to assess specific cognitive processes that govern behavior. <

Contact: Muriel Vogel-Sprott, Ph.D.
519.885.1211 x2666
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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