Effects of acute alcohol consumption on emotion recognition in high and low trait aggressive drinkers

Andy Eastwood*, Ian S Penton-Voak, Marcus R Munafo, Angela S Attwood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
225 Downloads (Pure)


Research suggests that acute alcohol consumption impairs processing of emotional faces. As emotion processing plays a key role in effective social interaction, these impairments may be one mechanism by which alcohol changes social behaviour. This study investigated the effect of individual differences on this relationship by comparing emotion recognition performance after acute alcohol consumption in individuals with high and low trait aggression.

Regular non-dependent drinkers, either high or low in trait aggression participated in a double-blind placebo-controlled experiment (N = 88, 50% high trait aggressive). Participants attended two sessions. In one they consumed an alcoholic drink (0.4 g/kg) and in the other they consumed a matched placebo. They then completed two computer-based tasks: one measured global and emotion-specific recognition performance across six primary emotions (anger, sadness, happiness, disgust, fear, surprise), the other measured processing bias of two ambiguously expressive faces (happy–angry/happy–sad).

There was evidence of poorer global emotion recognition after alcohol. In addition, there was evidence of poorer sensitivity to sadness and fear after alcohol. There was also evidence for a reduced bias towards happiness following alcohol and weak evidence for an increased bias towards sadness.

These findings suggest that alcohol impairs global emotion recognition. They also highlight a reduced ability to detect sadness and fearful facial expressions. As sadness and fear are cues of submission and distress (i.e. function to curtail aggression), failure to successfully detect these emotions when intoxicated may increase the likelihood of aggressive responding. This coupled with a reduced bias towards seeing happiness may collectively contribute to aggressive behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Early online date29 May 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2020

Bibliographical note

The acceptance date for this record is provisional and based upon the month of publication for the article.

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health
  • Tobacco and Alcohol


  • Acute alcohol consumption
  • emotional facial expressions
  • trait aggression
  • emotion perception bias and sensitivity


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