The effect of alcoholism on visuo-spatial perspective taking

Cox, Sharon (2015) The effect of alcoholism on visuo-spatial perspective taking. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Background: Severe alcoholism is associated with cognitive deficits which research has shown to effect social functioning. Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to make judgments based on another’s state of mind, has only recently been explored in alcohol research. Previous research has shown that alcoholism is associated with deficits in conscious, deliberate emotional processing and humour processing. However, ToM encompasses many social functions, including the ability to take another’s visual perspective, but little is known about how cognitive deficits caused through alcoholism may affect these processes.

Aim: The aim of the experiments in this thesis was to explore how alcoholism may effect automatic visual-spatial processing and the effect of emotional valence of stimuli on this automatic process.

Methods: Visual processing was measured by asking participants to respond to a dot probe appearing as either congruent (above/below) or incongruent (left/right) to facial stimuli which conveyed a neutral or emotional expression (e.g.a fearful or happy face). Participants were also asked to quantify the level of the emotion expressed using a 7 point-Likert scale.

Results: The results from the visuo-spatial processing trials (VSPT) show that alcoholism is not associated with any impairment in VSPT; both alcoholics and non-alcoholics showed a perspective reaction time cost when the perspective differed from their own. This can be taken as evidence for automatic VSPT. However, the relevance of the fearful facial expression did cause a reaction time cost for the non-alcoholics that was not demonstrated by the alcoholics. However, both the alcoholics and non-alcoholics showed a delayed response to happy faces when the perspective differed from their own. To address the question as to why it may be the case that alcoholics did not react differently to neutral and fearful faces, participants were asked to rate the faces for emotional content. In these trials alcoholics rated the neutral faces as containing more emotion than the non-alcoholics.

Conclusions: The VSPT studies in this thesis suggest that alcoholics do not show any deficits in visual perspective taking, although this research is in its infancy so greater exploration is required. What appears most significant from the experiments is that the emotional content of the stimuli presented creates processing differences between the alcoholics and non-alcoholics as evidenced by their reaction time differences and ratings of the faces. The extent to which these processing differences will effect alcoholic’s day to day lives is not known.

CoxSharon - Final PhD Thesis_Redacted.pdf - Published Version

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