Attentional bias toward alcohol-related stimuli in heavy drinkers: evidence from dynamic eye movement recording

Background: It has been proposed that attentional biases toward alcohol stimuli are contributing factors maintaining problematic drinking behavior. Objective: The main goal of the present set of studies was to provide an examination of dynamic attentional mechanisms associated with alcohol consumption derived from eye movement monitoring. Method: Undergraduate students were recruited for two studies. In Experiment 1, 80 students were exposed to complex scenes (containing alcohol-related cues or not) viewed at a self-determined presentation rate. In Experiment 2, 80 students were exposed to the stimuli for a fixed presentation time and asked to memorize the photographs. In both studies, participants completed the Khavari Alcohol Test (KAT) to measure their drinking behaviors. Results: Experiment 1 revealed that alcohol consumption was unrelated to eye movement measures on alcohol-related objects within pictures. However, results of Experiment 2 indicated that saccades into and out of the alcohol-related zones were more frequent as alcohol consumption increased. The time spent and the speed of the first fixation in the alcohol-related zone did not explain the variance in alcohol consumption. Conclusion: Attentional biases associated with alcohol consumption might be better understood in terms of dynamic attention mechanisms. More precisely, heavy drinker’s attention seems to be constantly drawn back to alcohol-related objects once they are first fixated and when attention is enforced through other cognitive demands. From a clinical viewpoint, dynamic attentional biases might contribute to the development or maintenance of alcohol-related problems and this observation might help guide attention-based interventions.