Category: Addictive Behaviors
According to alcohol myopia theory (Steele & Josephs, 1990), intoxication results in a narrowing of attention to the most central environmental cues, at the cost of more peripheral information. Though long hypothesized, alcohol myopia has rarely been measured behaviorally. Schreiber Compo et al. (2011) recently established that alcohol myopia could be observed in a barlab. Following interactions with a confederate bartender, intoxicated participants recalled less peripheral information than sober participants. However, the interaction task in that study was non-standardized, making replication difficult. To address this issue, we conducted an alcohol administration study with a clear, standardized focus–a trauma film. We also included two alcohol dosage levels, to examine whether myopia varies according to degree of intoxication. Consistent with Schreiber Compo et al. (2011), we expected greater intoxication would impair recall of peripheral (but not central) information. To establish discriminant validity and rule out the possibility that participants focused on peripheral cues to avoid distressing film content (rather than because of differences in myopia), we examined associations between recall, dissociation, and distraction.
Participants were 98 community women (ages 21 to 30) who were social drinkers without a history of sexual assault. Participants first completed the Dissociative Experiences Scale-II (Carlson & Putnam, 1993) and the Distraction subscale of the Thought Control Questionnaire (Wells & Davies, 1994). They were then randomized to consume a placebo beverage, a low dose of alcohol (mean Breath Alcohol Concentration [BrAC] = .05%), or a high dose of alcohol (mean BrAC = .11%). Participants then moved to a staged room where they viewed a film clip depicting a sexual assault. After leaving the room, they completed a 10-minute written free recall task of the film and the room. Trained research assistants coded responses for the number of accurate items, details, and actions (interrater ICC = .98).
Confirmatory factor analysis was used to evaluate the distinction between two factors: (1) details of the film, reflecting Central information, and (2) details of the room, reflecting Peripheral information. Details of the perpetrator and victim in the film were allowed to covary. The fit of this model was excellent, CFI = .960, RMSEA = .045.
Means were computed for the Central and Peripheral scales. As expected, between-group ANOVAs revealed Peripheral (but not Central) information differed by alcohol condition, F(2, 95) = 5.06, p = .01. Specifically, those in the high dose condition reported less Peripheral information than those in the low dose (p = .04) or placebo conditions (p < .01). Similarly, the higher the peak BrAC, the less Peripheral information was recalled (r = -.30, p < .01). Reflective of discriminant validity, neither Central nor Peripheral information correlated to participant education or self-reported tendencies to dissociate or distract oneself (all p’s > .05).
These findings suggest that alcohol myopia can be observed through an immediate free recall task following a salient film. This task may be useful for clarifying the role of alcohol myopia in clinical phenomena, such as processing traumatic events and perpetrating violence.