Applied Cognitive Psychology

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Differential effects of alcohol on associative versus item memory


Alcohol has detrimental effects on a range of cognitive processes, the most prominent being episodic memory. These deficits appear functionally similar to those observed within the normal aging population. We investigated whether an associative memory deficit, as found in older adults, would also be evident in young adults moderately intoxicated by alcohol. Participants were shown unrelated word pairs and then tested on both their item recognition (old/new item?) and associative recognition (intact/recombined pair?). Half the participants were under the influence of alcohol whereas the other half were sober. Alcohol impaired memory performance but significantly more so for associative than for item memory. Moreover, within the alcohol group, the associative memory deficit was significantly related to the amount of alcohol consumed. The findings suggest that not all aspects of episodic memory are equally impaired by alcohol, which may have practical implications for criminal investigations involving eye witnesses who have consumed alcohol.

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