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Alcohol Selectively Reduces Brain Activity During the Affective Processing of Negative Information


  • This work was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

Reprint requests: Ingmar H.A. Franken, Institute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Woudestein J5-43, PO Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Fax: +31-10-4089009; E-mail:


Background: Although it has frequently been suggested that alcohol influences emotions such as anxiety and fear through the modulation of affective information processing, few studies addressed this topic using objective measures.

Objectives: The acute effects of alcohol on affective processing of pictorial stimuli were investigated using electrophysiological measures.

Methods: Event-related brain potentials (ERP) resulting from watching pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral pictures were investigated in a group of participants receiving a beverage containing a moderate dose of alcohol (n=26) and a group of participants receiving a nonalcoholic placebo beverage (n=24). Both early [early posterior negativity (EPN)] and late [late positive potential (LPP)] ERP components were employed as index of emotional processing.

Results: The results show that alcohol reduced brain activity during watching unpleasant information in a late stage (700–1000 ms). This suggests that alcohol selectively influences the processing of unpleasant information.

Conclusions: The findings are in concordance with theories linking alcohol administration to decreased processing of affective information. The results are discussed in the context of the role of the effect of alcohol on affective information processing, and its relevance to alcoholism.

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