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The effects of alcohol intoxication on attention and memory for visual scenes

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This study tests the claim that alcohol intoxication narrows the focus of visual attention on to the more salient features of a visual scene. A group of alcohol intoxicated and sober participants had their eye movements recorded as they encoded a photographic image featuring a central event of either high or low salience. All participants then recalled the details of the image the following day when sober. We sought to determine whether the alcohol group would pay less attention to the peripheral features of the encoded scene than their sober counterparts, whether this effect of attentional narrowing was stronger for the high-salience event than for the low-salience event, and whether it would lead to a corresponding deficit in peripheral recall. Alcohol was found to narrow the focus of foveal attention to the central features of both images but did not facilitate recall from this region. It also reduced the overall amount of information accurately recalled from each scene. These findings demonstrate that the concept of alcohol myopia originally posited to explain the social consequences of intoxication (Steele & Josephs, 1990) may be extended to explain the relative neglect of peripheral information during the processing of visual scenes.
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Keywords: Alcohol intoxication; Eye movements; Free recall; Visual attention; Visual memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, University of Winchester, Winchester, UK

Publication date: November 1, 2013

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