Background: Implicit positive alcohol expectancy (PAE) processes are thought to respond phasically to external and internal stimuli—including mood states—and so they may exert powerful proximal influences over drinking behavior. Although social learning theory contends that mood states activate mood-congruent implicit PAEs, which in turn lead to alcohol use, there is a dearth of experimental research examining this mediation model relative to observable drinking. Moreover, an expectancy theory perspective might suggest that, rather than influencing PAEs directly, mood may moderate the association between PAEs and drinking. To test these models, this study examined the role of mood in the association between implicitly measured PAE processes (i.e., latency to endorse PAEs) and immediate alcohol consumption in the laboratory. Gender differences in these processes also were examined.
Method: College students (N = 146) were exposed to either a positive, negative, or neutral mood induction procedure, completed a computerized PAE reaction time (RT) task, and subsequently consumed alcohol ad libitum.
Results: The mood manipulation had no direct effects on drinking in the laboratory, making the mediation hypothesis irrelevant. Instead, gender and mood condition moderated the association between RT to endorse PAEs and drinking in the laboratory. For males, RT to tension reduction PAEs was a stronger predictor of volume of beer consumed and peak blood alcohol concentration in the context of general arousal (i.e., positive and negative mood) relative to neutral mood. RT to PAEs did not predict drinking in the laboratory for females.
Conclusions: The results show that PAE processes are important determinants of immediate drinking behavior in men, suggesting that biased attention to mood-relevant PAEs—as indicated by longer RTs—predicts greater alcohol consumption in the appropriate mood context. The findings also highlight the need to consider gender differences in PAE processes. This study underscores the need for interventions that target automatic cognitive processes related to alcohol use.