Alcohol related aggression
: exploring the acute and chronic effects of alcohol consumption on key aspects of social cognition

  • Andy Eastwood

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Research indicates that alcohol consumption causes aggressive behaviour, but it is not an inevitable consequence. It is likely that alcohol increases aggression by impairing cognitive and perceptual mechanisms associated with the behaviour. The purpose of this thesis was to extend the current understanding of alcohol-related aggression, by investigating the acute and chronic effects on emotional face perception and social interaction interpretation. Both experimental and cross-sectional approaches were used. As emotional expressions are a form of non-verbal communication likely to influence behaviour, the effects of acute and chronic alcohol consumption on recognition were explored. It was anticipated that acute consumption would impair emotion recognition. Alcohol dependence is linked to emotion processing deficits and it was anticipated that chronic consumption would similarly predict poorer recognition. Next, the influence acute alcohol consumption has on hostile interpretations of emotional expressions was explored. Hostile attribution bias is linked to increased aggression and evidence from forensic samples highlights that aggressive individuals display emotion processing deficits. It was anticipated that alcohol would cause a similar profile of impairment. This thesis then explored whether acute alcohol influenced impressions formed when viewing dyadic social interactions. These involve two people interacting and are likely to influence the perceiver’s behaviour. It was anticipated that alcohol would influence the impressions formed when viewing dyadic social interactions. Results showed that acute alcohol consumption reduced global emotion recognition and impaired sad and fearful expressions recognition. Chronic consumption also impaired the ability to recognise sadness. Acute consumption also resulted in happy faces being interpreted as more hostile. The impressions formed when viewing dyadic interactions were not influenced by acute alcohol consumption. As cues of submission (i.e., sadness and fear) are influenced by acute and chronic consumption, and happiness is interpreted as more hostile when intoxicated, this may lead to increased aggression.
Date of Award23 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorAngela S Attwood (Supervisor) & Ian S Penton-Voak (Supervisor)


  • Experimental Psychology
  • Acute & Chronic Alcohol Consumption
  • Emotional Face Processing
  • Aggression

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