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Title: Alcohol consumption and biases in personal memory functioning
Author: Whiteley, Christopher M.
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 1998
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Previous research has demonstrated that participants from a number of clinical populations with different emotional disorders, (e.g. depression; Brittlebank et al 1993; Williams and Scott 1988) more readily retrieve generic rather than specific autobiographical memories to cue words. Other research has also established a tendency for people with emotional disorders to have preferential access (faster retrieval) to negative rather than positive memories from their past (Moore et al 1988; Williams and Scott 1988). This study attempted to extend this area of cognitive research into alcohol problems, by replicating these studies with a clinical sample of 'problem drinkers' (n = 26). This study did replicate a number of the central findings of previous research into autobiographical memory function and emotional disturbance, but also generated novel findings. Compared to a non-clinical sample of 'social drinkers' (n = 29), the 'problem drinkers' did retrieve significantly more generic autobiographical memories to cue words and fewer specific autobiographical memories. The 'problem drinkers' were not significantly more general in their first memory response to positive rather than negative cue words compared to the 'social drinkers'. 'Problem drinkers' took longer overall to retrieve a specific memory but did not have a significantly longer latency to positive cue words. 'Problem drinkers' gave significantly more positive subjective valence ratings to memories retrieved in response to positive cues than the 'social drinkers'. The 'problem drinkers' also subjectively rated the valence of specific memories retrieved in response to negative cues as more negative than the 'social drinkers'. The tendency for retrieval of generic memories in 'problem drinkers' was not correlated with current alcohol craving, severity of alcohol dependence or measures of chronicity of alcohol problems. The present study extends the research in this area by examining the responses of 'problem drinkers' to alcohol related cue words. Again, 'problem drinkers' were significantly more generic in their first autobiographical memory response than 'social drinkers', and significantly slower overall to respond to cue words with a specific memory. 'Problem drinkers' gave significantly lower subjective valence ratings to specific memories in response to the alcohol and non-alcohol cue words compared to 'social drinkers'. This study additionally examined the role of memories in decisions to start / continue drinking and stop / reduce drinking. 'Problem drinkers' reported a greater desire to start / continue drinking in response to a memory than 'social drinkers', and a greater tendency to follow this desire through to drinking behaviour.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available