Ahveninen, J., Jääskeläinen, I. P., Pekkonen, E., Hallberg, A., Hietanen, M., Näätänen, R., Schröger, E., & Sillanaukee, P. (2000). Increased distractibility by task-irrelevant sound changes in abstinent alcoholics. Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 24(12), 1850-1854.

Increased distractibility by task-irrelevant sound changes in abstinent alcoholics

BACKGROUND: Chronic alcoholism is accompanied by "frontal" neuropsychological deficits that include an inability to maintain focus of attention. This might be associated with pronounced involuntary attention shifting to task-irrelevant stimulus changes and, thereafter, an impaired reorienting to the relevant task. The neural abnormalities that underlie such deficits in alcoholics were explored with event-related potential (ERP) components that disclosed different phases of detection and orienting to stimulus changes. METHODS: Twenty consecutive abstinent male alcoholics (DSM-IV) and 20 age-matched male controls (healthy social drinkers) were instructed to discriminate equiprobable 100 and 200 msec tones in a reaction-time task (RT) and to ignore occasional, either slight (7%) or wide (70%), frequency changes (hypothesized to increase RT) during an ERP measurement. RESULTS: In the alcoholics, we found pronounced distractibility, evidenced by a RT lag (p < 0.01) caused by deviants, that correlated (Spearman p = 0.5) with a significantly enhanced (p < 0.01) amplitude of mismatch negativity (MMN) to deviants. Significantly increased RT lag for trials subsequent to deviants (slight p < 0.001, wide p < 0.05) in the alcoholics suggested impaired reorienting to the relevant task. The MMN enhancement also predicted poorer hit rates in the alcoholics (Spearman p = 0.6-0.7). Both the MMN enhancement and pronounced distractibility correlated (Spearman p = 0.4) with an early onset of alcoholism. CONCLUSIONS: Attentional deficits in the abstinent alcoholics were indicated by the increased distractibility by irrelevant sound changes. The MMN enhancement suggested that this reflects impaired neural inhibition of involuntary attention shifting, being most pronounced in early-onset alcoholics.


Cognitive and Biological Psychology

University of Leipzig
Faculty of Life Sciences
Institute of Psychology
Neumarkt 9-19
D-04109 Leipzig


Dagmar Schrödl
Phone: +49 341 97-39570
Email: dagmar dot schroedl at uni-leipzig dot de

Dorit Thieme
Phone: +49 341 97-39540
Email: d dot thieme at uni-leipzig dot de

Fax: +49 341 97-39271