Holistic perception is a special form of automatic and experience dependent processing that prioritises objects of interest through the visual system. We therefore speculated that higher levels of alcohol consumption may be associated with enhanced holistic perception for alcohol cues. In our first experiment, we confirmed this hypothesis by showing that increasing regular alcohol usage was associated with greater holistic perception of alcohol, but not non-alcohol, cues. We replicated this finding in a second experiment, but confirmed drink-specific holistic perception for lager cues was not predicted by experience with that drink, but general alcohol usage. In our final experiment when alcohol images were absent from the task, higher levels of alcohol consumption predicted decreased holistic perception for non-rewarding cues. Alcohol use is therefore linked to inverse alterations in holistic perception for alcohol versus non-alcohol cues, with the latter's effects context dependent. We hypothesise that such inverse relationships may be due to limited cortical resources becoming reutilised for alcohol cues at the expense of other stimuli. Future work will be required to determine holistic perception's role in maintaining addiction, its predictive value in successful abstinence, and its relationship with characteristics of addiction such as cue reactivity, attentional biases and personality traits.
Burns, E. J., & Wilcockson, T. D. W. (2019). Alcohol usage predicts holistic perception: A novel method for exploring addiction. Addictive Behaviors, 99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.05.024