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Durham University



Publication details for Professor Amanda Ellison

Knight, Helen C., Smith, Daniel T., Knight, David C. & Ellison, Amanda (2018). Light social drinkers are more distracted by irrelevant information from an induced attentional bias than heavy social drinkers. Psychopharmacology 235(10): 2967-2978.

Author(s) from Durham


It is well established that alcoholics and heavy social drinkers show a bias of attention towards alcohol-related items. Previous research suggests that there is a shared foundation of attentional bias, which is linked to attentional control settings. Specifically, attentional bias relates to a persistent selection of a Feature Search Mode which prioritises attentional bias-related information for selection and processing. However, no research has yet examined the effect of pre-existing biases on the development of an additional attentional bias. This paper seeks to discover how pre-existing biases affect the formation of a new, additional attentional bias. Twenty-five heavy and 25 light social drinkers, with and without a pre-existing bias to alcohol-related items, respectively, had an attentional bias towards the colour green induced via an information sheet. They then completed a series of one-shot change detection tasks. In the critical task, green items were present but task-irrelevant. Irrelevant green items caused significantly more interference for light than heavy social drinkers. This somewhat counter intuitive result is likely due to heavy drinkers having more experience in exerting cognitive control over attentional biases, something not previously observed in investigations of the effects of holding an attentional bias. Our findings demonstrate for the first time that an established attentional bias significantly modulates future behaviour.

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