Are you looking at me? Effects of acute alcohol consumption on processing of facial cues of emotional expression

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

Whilst there is support for a link between alcohol and aggression, the mechanisms underlying this relationship are not well understood. Alcohol may facilitate aggression via alterations in the processing of the emotional content of facial cues. Studies have reported impairments to the processing of emotional facial cues in alcohol dependent participants (Townshend & Duka 2003), and more recently have shown modified processing of emotional face cues after acute doses of alcohol in non-dependent social drinkers (Kano et al. 2003).  In an AERC-funded project, we examined the effects of acute doses of alcohol on sensitivity to, categorization of and perception of gaze orientation in emotionally expressive facial cues. Findings suggested that after alcohol there is a reduced sensitivity towards processing expressions of sadness and a tendency to categorise an ambiguous emotional expression as angry. Thus, the current project finds some support for the assertion that alcohol affects processing of emotional expressions in facial cues, and that these effects may be selective to specific emotions. In addition, our findings suggested that these effects may be dependent on both the sex of the viewer and the sex of the target being viewed.


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Dr Angela Attwood