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Measuring inhibitory processes for alcohol-related attentional biases: introducing a novel attentional bias measure

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>05/2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Addictive Behaviors
Number of pages6
Pages (from-to)88-93
Publication statusPublished
Early online date27/12/14
Original languageEnglish



Attentional biases for alcohol related information (AB) have often been reported for heavy drinkers. These attentional biases have been found to have predictive value regarding relapse in abstaining alcoholics. Similarly impaired inhibitory processes have also been found to be associated with heavy drinkers. This paper describes a new experimental paradigm that can be utilised to investigate attentional bias towards alcohol-related visual stimuli, specifically the ability to inhibit the orientation of initial and sustained attention, towards peripherally appearing stimuli. In this way we hope to study a novel aspect of attentional biases and how they relate to substance abuse.


We used a novel eye-tracking task which aims to measure inhibitory processes for AB. The experiment utilised a gaze contingency paradigm to measure the compulsion to process or attend to alcohol stimuli. 86 undergraduate participants were recruited (31 males; 55 females), aged 18–49 years (m = 20.88; sd = 4.52). A ‘break frequency’ variable was computed for each participant. This was the number of times that participants tried to look at peripheral stimuli. We argue that this variable is a direct measure of how distracting peripheral stimuli were.


It was found that reported alcohol use was associated with the eye-tracking break frequency measure of inhibitory control. Thus, heavy drinking may be associated with decreased inhibitory control and increased attentional bias.


Results suggest that attentional bias is not just a process of stimuli becoming prioritised, but also stimuli becoming compulsory to attend and process.