Alcohol context priming modifies attentional interference by alcohol related stimuli

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Drug-related cues elicit preferential attention in drug users and abusers. These cues can also interfere with performance on other tasks acting as task-irrelevant distractors.

We studied the effect of previous exposure to alcohol-related contexts on the interference of alcohol stimuli on performance in an n-back task.

Thirty-two participants were presented with alcohol or neutral related stimuli and contexts. After the priming task, they undertook the n-back task. In this task participants were shown alcohol-related or matched neutral pictures. Each of the pictures was surrounded by a coloured frame. For each presentation, participants had to indicate if the colour of the frame matched the category of the previously presented one (low-cognitive load condition) or two (high-cognitive load condition).

We hypothesized that for participants primed with an alcohol-related context, interference on the n-back task by alcohol stimuli versus neutral ones would be greater compared to participants who were not primed, especially on the high-cognitive load condition.

Results of the n-back task show a marginal interaction between stimulus type, cognitive load and priming condition, F(1,29)=3.381, p=.076. Contrary to our hypothesis, this effect was due to a decrease in RT for alcohol-related stimuli compared to neutral stimuli in the high-load condition for participants in the alcohol priming condition, p=.07. In the neutral priming condition, RT for alcohol stimuli were higher in the high-load condition compared to the low-load condition, p=.037.

These results surprisingly show that priming with alcohol related contexts facilitates performance in a task testing interference by stimuli related to the priming context


Dr Kyriaki Nikolau Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience, School of Psychology, University of Sussex Dr Ryan Scott Sackler centre for the study of Consciousness, School of Psychology, University of Sussex Prof Theodora Duka Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience, School of Psychology, University of Sussex

Conflicts of interest:

no conflict of interest

Mr Mateo Leganes