Alcohol and aggression: a test of the attention-allocation model

Psychol Sci. 2007 Jul;18(7):649-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01953.x.


This article presents the first systematic test of the attention-allocation model for alcohol-related aggression. According to this model, alcohol has a "myopic" effect on attentional capacity that presumably facilitates aggression by focusing attention on more salient provocative, rather than less salient inhibitory, cues in hostile situations. Aggression was assessed using a laboratory task in which mild electric shocks were received from, and administered to, a fictitious opponent. Study 1 demonstrated that a moderate-load cognitive distractor suppressed aggression in intoxicated subjects (to levels even lower than those exhibited by a placebo control group). Study 2 assessed how varying the magnitude of a distracting cognitive load affected aggression in the alcohol and placebo conditions. Results indicated that the moderate-load distraction used in Study 1 (i.e., holding four elements in sequential order in working memory) suppressed aggression best. Cognitive loads of larger and smaller magnitudes were not successful in attenuating aggression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention*
  • Cognition
  • Cues
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Reaction Time
  • Social Behavior
  • Task Performance and Analysis