The impact of binge drinking on emotion recognition

Corcoran, Carmel (2022) The impact of binge drinking on emotion recognition. Doctoral thesis, University of West London.

[thumbnail of Corcoran - PhD Thesis Final (June 22).pdf]
Corcoran - PhD Thesis Final (June 22).pdf - Accepted Version

Download (5MB) | Preview


Binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking is variously defined but according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it is the consumption of at least 60 grams or more of pure alcohol, 5 or more standard alcoholic drinks, at least once in the last 30 days. Alcohol costs society between 1.3% to 2.7% of GDP, approximately £46 billion pounds whilst direct costs to the NHS are in the region of £3.5 billion pounds. Much research has been conducted on alcohol dependence (AD) and the impact on the individual and cognition. However, much less research has been conducted on binge drinking, and where it has, research has tended to focus on executive function whilst social cognitions have largely been neglected. Social cognition has been defined as any psychological process that facilitates an individual's ability to interact in a social group and is essential for human wellbeing and the ability to thrive in society. Being able to read and respond appropriately to facial expressions is a key factor underpinning social interaction.
This thesis aimed to address some of the gap in knowledge with respect to binge drinking and emotion recognition. The research had the following aims:
1) to clarify previous findings of emotion recognition impairment and to identify whether binge drinking impacted the bottom-up ability to recognise facial expressions at a behavioural level in a similar way to top-down emotion recognition
2) to identify whether there were differences in how binge drinkers gathered information from faces for processing.
To address these aims a quantitative method was used. Study 1-Part 1 (N=50, HBD = 25, 14 females, LBD = 25, 19 females) examined early/bottom-up emotion recognition for static faces, Study 1-Part 2 (N=39, HBD=20, 10 females, LBD = 19, 16 females) identified the visual scan path gathering information for processing from emotional faces and emotional images, whilst Study 2 (N=46, HBD= 23, 11 females, LBD=23, 19 females) examined early/bottom-up emotion recognition, late/top-down emotion recognition of both static and dynamic faces and the visual scan path over both static and dynamic faces. The participants were recruited from the student population, a group particularly prone to binge drinking.
The research generated some interesting findings some of which supported other research and others which furthered the insight into the impact of binge drinking on social cognitions beyond the behavioural level. This research suggests there is no behavioural difference in bottom-up emotion recognition however there is a positive bias at lower levels of BD and a negative bias at higher levels of BD. There was an overall deficit in emotion recognition at higher levels of binge drinking and with an increased cognitive load. This study has also identified differences in how high and low binge drinkers scan static and dynamic images as well as viewing strategies used for emotion recognition. Taken together these findings suggest a less efficient viewing strategy by high binge drinkers which becomes more pronounced at higher levels of binge drinking and with increased task complexity resulting in impaired recognition. The mechanism implicated in this is the amygdala which is instrumental in directing gaze to the eyes and is also impacted by alcohol.
Impaired recognition of facial emotion expressions can have serious consequences impacting the wellbeing of the individual and their social circle. Uncomfortable social interactions due to incorrect or negative interpretation of expressions can have a serious detrimental effect on the individual and lead to a defensive attitude, avoidance of similar situations or to drink more to cope in these social settings. In addition, the inability to recognise negative emotions such as Fear or Anger at lower levels could exacerbate situations where there is a risk of domestic violence or date rape. Suggestions for interventions and further research are discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Identifier: 10.36828/nhst7822
Subjects: Psychology > Substance abuse/misuse
Depositing User: Carmel Corcoran
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2022 08:56
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2022 13:05


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item