Analysis of the distribution of reaction times (RTs) in behavioral tasks can illustrate differences attributable to changes in attention, even when no change in mean RT is observed. Detrimental attentional effects of both acute and chronic exposure to alcohol may therefore be revealed by fitting RT data to an ex-Gaussian probability density function which identifies the proportion of long-RT responses.Methods:
Adolescent male rhesus macaques completed a 5-choice serial reaction time task (5CSRT) after acute alcohol consumption (up to 0.0, 1.0 and 1.5 g/kg). Monkeys were next divided into chronic alcohol (N = 5) and control groups (N = 5); the experimental group consumed 1.5–3.0 g/kg alcohol for 200 drinking sessions. Unintoxicated performance in the 5CSRT task was determined systematically across the study period and the effect of acute alcohol was redetermined after the 180th drinking session. The effect of extended abstinence from chronic alcohol was determined across 90 days.Results:
Acute alcohol exposure dose-dependently reduced the probability of longer RT responses without changing the mean or the standard deviation of the RT distribution. The RT distribution of control monkeys tightened across 10 months whereas that of the chronic alcohol group was unchanged. Discontinuation from chronic alcohol increased the probability of long RT responses with a difference from control animals observed after 30 days of discontinuation.Conclusions:
Alcohol consumption selectively affected attention as reflected in the probability of long RT responses. Acute alcohol consumption focused attention, chronic alcohol consumption impaired the maturation of attention across the study period and alcohol discontinuation impaired attention.