Contextual influences on subjective and behavioral responses to alcohol

William Corbin, Caitlin Scott, Stephen J. Boyd, Kyle R. Menary, Craig K. Enders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Differential sensitivity to alcohol effects (e.g., increased stimulation and decreased sedation) is associated with heavier use and problems. Although genetic factors contribute to alcohol response (AR), environmental factors may also play a role. This study examined effects of physical context on AR using a between subjects placebo-controlled design. There were 157 (57% male) participants (ages 21-30) who were randomized to 1 of 4 conditions based on beverage (placebo or alcohol [target BrAC = .08 g%]) and physical context (simulated bar or traditional lab). AR was assessed using the Subjective Effects of Alcohol Scale and the Biphasic Alcohol Effects Scale, as well as behavioral tasks including the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) and its negative reinforcement counterpart (MRBURNS). A beverage condition by context interaction emerged for low arousal positive subjective response (SR), and among women, for performance on the BART task. In the lab context only, alcohol (relative to placebo) was associated with stronger low arousal positive SR and, for women, with impaired performance on the BART task. This suggests that a less stimulating lab context may be better suited to differentiating positive alcohol effects from expectancies, whereas a bar context may be better suited to detecting expectancy effects. The findings also suggest that the ability to better appreciate positive alcohol effects (relative to expectations) in less stimulating contexts may lead to a strengthening of these effects among individuals who drink in these environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-70
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental and clinical psychopharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • BART
  • Physical context
  • Placebo control
  • Subjective effects of alcohol scale
  • Subjective response

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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