Acute alcohol effects on subtypes of impulsivity and the role of alcohol-outcome expectancies

Abstract

Rationale

It is well established that alcohol acutely impairs the ability to inhibit a pre-potent response (motor impulsivity), but its effects on cognitive impulsivity, including temporal (delayed gratification) and reflection (decision making) impulsivity, are not clear. An important factor contributing to the effects of alcohol is cognitive expectancies of alcohol-related outcomes.

Objectives

The current study investigated the effect of alcohol, and alcohol outcome expectancies, on subtypes of impulsivity.

Methods

Impulsivity was tested using the Stop Signal, the Single Key Impulsivity and the Information Sampling Task for motor, temporal and reflection impulsivity, respectively. Participants (n = 48) received placebo, a low (0.4 g/kg) or high dose (0.8 g/kg) of alcohol, before completing the impulsivity measures.

Results

Motor impulsivity was affected by alcohol dose; participants receiving a high dose displayed reduced inhibitory control. Reflection impulsivity was affected by cognitive alcohol expectancies, but not by alcohol condition; participants expecting greater cognitive and behavioural impairment by alcohol exhibited low impulsivity. Temporal impulsivity was not affected by either alcohol dose or outcome expectancies.

Conclusions

These data suggest that the effects of alcohol on the subtypes of impulsivity are dissociable. Motor impulsivity is sensitive to the pharmacological effects of alcohol, whereas the reflection subtype is affected by cognitive alcohol expectancies. The findings have implications for the understanding of impulsive behaviour under the influence of alcohol.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by Alcohol Research UK and the University of Sussex on a PhD studentship, and by Medical Research Council Project Grant G0802642 to TD. The authors wish to thank Dr. Kyriaki Nikolaou for help with the use of the Stop Signal Task. The experiment complies with ethical standards laws of the UK.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no potential conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Theodora Duka.

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Caswell, A.J., Morgan, M.J. & Duka, T. Acute alcohol effects on subtypes of impulsivity and the role of alcohol-outcome expectancies. Psychopharmacology 229, 21–30 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-013-3079-8

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Keywords

  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Ethanol
  • Alcohol outcome expectancies
  • Reflection impulsivity
  • Temporal impulsivity
  • Motor impulsivity