A Working Memory Bias for Alcohol-Related Stimuli Depends on Drinking Score

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Abstract

We tested 44 participants with respect to their working memory (WM) performance on alcohol-related versus neutral visual stimuli. Previously an alcohol attentional bias (AAB) had been reported using these stimuli, where the attention of frequent drinkers was automatically drawn toward alcohol-related items (e.g., beer bottle). The present study set out to provide evidence for an alcohol memory bias (AMB) that would persist over longer time-scales than the AAB. The WM task we used required memorizing 4 stimuli in their correct locations and a visual interference task was administered during a 4-sec delay interval. A subsequent probe required participants to indicate whether a stimulus was shown in the correct or incorrect location. For each participant we calculated a drinking score based on 3 items derived from the Alcohol Use Questionnaire, and we observed that higher scorers better remembered alcohol-related images compared with lower scorers, particularly when these were presented in their correct locations upon recall. This provides first evidence for an AMB. It is important to highlight that this effect persisted over a 4-sec delay period including a visual interference task that erased iconic memories and diverted attention away from the encoded items, thus the AMB cannot be reduced to the previously reported AAB. Our finding calls for further investigation of alcohol-related cognitive biases in WM, and we propose a preliminary model that may guide future research.

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