Alcohol-Related Visual Cues Impede the Ability to Process Auditory Information: Seeing but Not Hearing

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Studies of visual attention find that drinkers spend more time attending to images of alcohol-related stimuli compared to neutral images. It is believed that this attentional bias contributes to the maintenance of alcohol use. However, no research has examined the possibility that this bias of visual attention might actually impede the functioning of other modalities, such as the processing of accompanying auditory stimuli. This study aimed to determine if alcohol-related images engender greater sensory dominance than neutral images, such that processing accompanying information from another modality (audition) would be impeded. Drinkers who had an attentional bias to alcohol-related images performed a multisensory perception task that measured how alcohol-related versus neutral visual images affected their ability to detect and respond to simultaneously presented auditory signals. In accord with the hypothesis, compared with neutral images, the presentation of alcohol-related images impaired the ability to detect and respond to auditory signals. Increased dominance of the visual modality was demonstrated by more bimodal targets being misclassified as visual-only targets in the alcohol target condition compared with that of the neutral. Findings suggest that increased processing of alcohol-related stimuli may impede an individual’s ability to encode and interpret information obtained from other sensory modalities.

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