Processing of facial affect in social drinkers: a dose–response study of alcohol using dynamic emotion expressions
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Studies of affect recognition can inform our understanding of the interpersonal effects of alcohol and help develop a more complete neuropsychological profile of this drug.
The objective of the study was to examine affect recognition in social drinkers using a novel dynamic affect-recognition task, sampling performance across a range of evolutionarily significant target emotions and neutral expressions.
Participants received 0, 0.4 or 0.8 g/kg alcohol in a double-blind, independent groups design. Relatively naturalistic changes in facial expression—from neutral (mouth open) to increasing intensities of target emotions, as well as neutral (mouth closed)—were simulated using computer-generated dynamic morphs. Accuracy and reaction time were measured and a two-high-threshold model applied to hits and false-alarm data to determine sensitivity and response bias.
While there was no effect on the principal emotion expressions (happiness, sadness, fear, anger and disgust), compared to those receiving 0.8 g/kg of alcohol and placebo, participants administered with 0.4 g/kg alcohol tended to show an enhanced response bias to neutral expressions. Exploration of this effect suggested an accompanying tendency to misattribute neutrality to sad expressions following the 0.4-g/kg dose.
The 0.4-g/kg alcohol—but not 0.8 g/kg—produced a limited and specific modification in affect recognition evidenced by a neutral response bias and possibly an accompanying tendency to misclassify sad expressions as neutral. In light of previous findings on involuntary negative memory following the 0.4-g/kg dose, we suggest that moderate—but not high—doses of alcohol have a special relevance to emotional processing in social drinkers.
KeywordsAlcohol Facial affect Emotion Affect recognition Sadness Response bias Social drinkers
The authors gratefully acknowledge grant support from Alcohol Research UK awarded to SKK, JB and HVC.
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