, Volume 197, Issue 1, pp 169–178 | Cite as

Effects of a low dose of alcohol on cognitive biases and craving in heavy drinkers

Original Investigation



Heavy alcohol drinking increases the incentive salience of alcohol-related cues. This leads to increased appetitive motivation to drink alcohol as measured by subjective craving and cognitive biases such as attentional bias and approach bias. Although these measures relate to the same construct, correlations between these variables are often very low. Alcohol consumption might not only increase different aspects of appetitive motivation, but also correlations between those aspects.


To investigate the effect of a low alcohol dose on changes in various measures of appetitive motivation.

Materials and methods

Twenty-three heavy social drinkers were tested in 2 sessions, once after receiving an alcohol prime dose and once after receiving a placebo drink. After drink administration, attentional bias was measured with a visual-probe task using concurrent eye movement monitoring. Furthermore, we measured the approach bias with a stimulus response compatibility task and subjective craving with the Desires for Alcohol Questionnaire.


After the alcohol prime dose, participants had higher levels of craving and more pronounced attentional bias (faster reaction times to probes that replaced alcohol rather than control pictures, increased maintenance of gaze on alcohol pictures, and a higher percentage of first eye movements directed toward alcohol pictures). Approach bias was not influenced by the alcohol prime dose. The correlation between attentional bias and approach bias was significantly higher after the alcohol than after the placebo drink.


A low alcohol dose increased most measures of appetitive motivation for alcohol and increased the interrelation between cognitive measures of this construct.


Attentional bias Approach bias Eye movements Craving Alcohol prime dose 



We would like to thank Elizabeth Tyler and Paul Christiansen for their help during testing, Fren Smulders for his contribution to devising the experimental design, and Gerard van Breukelen for his statistical advice. We would also like to thank the N.W.O. (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) for the Vidi-Grant 452.02.005 awarded to Reinout W. Wiers and the Medical Research Council Grant GO601070 awarded to Matt Field.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim Schoenmakers
    • 1
    • 2
  • Reinout W. Wiers
    • 1
    • 3
  • Matt Field
    • 2
  1. 1.Clinical Psychological ScienceMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  3. 3.Behavioural Science InstituteRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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