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Keywords:

  • ERPs;
  • Binge Drinking;
  • University Students;
  • Working Memory;
  • Attention

Background:  Binge Drinking (BD) typically involves heavy drinking over a short time, followed by a period of abstinence, and is common among young people, especially university students. Animal studies have demonstrated that this type of alcohol consumption causes brain damage, especially in the nonmature brain. The aim of the present study was to determine how BD affects brain functioning in male and female university students, during the performance of a visual working memory task.

Methods:  Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded, with an extensive set of 32 scalp electrodes, in 95 first-year university students (age range 18 to 20 years), comprising 42 binge drinkers (BD) and 53 controls, in a visual “identical pairs” continuous performance task. Principal components analysis was used to identify and analyze the N2 (negative waveform with a latency around 200 to 300 ms related to attentional processes) and P3 (positive waveform with a latency around 300 to 600 ms related to working memory processes) components of the ERPs.

Results:  In the matching condition of the task, the N2 component in central and parietal regions was significantly larger in the BD than in the control group. In the control group, the P3 component was larger in the matching than in the nonmatching condition in the frontal, central, and parietal regions, whereas the BD group did not show any significant differences between conditions in any region.

Conclusions:  The results of this study confirm the presence of electrophysiological differences between young university student binge drinkers and controls during the execution of a visual task with a high working memory load. The larger N2 in the BD group suggests higher levels of attentional effort required by this group to perform the task adequately. The absence of any differences in the P3 component in the different conditions (matching and nonmatching stimuli) in the BD group suggests a deficiency in the electrophysiological differentiation between relevant and irrelevant information, which may reflect some impairment of working memory processes.