Alcohol impairs brain reactivity to explicit loss feedback

Lindsay D. Nelson, Christopher J. Patrick, Paul Collins, Alan R. Lang, Edward M. Bernat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Rationale: Alcohol impairs the brain's detection of performance errors as evidenced by attenuated error-related negativity (ERN), an event-related potential (ERP) thought to reflect a brain system that monitors one's behavior. However, it remains unclear whether alcohol impairs performance-monitoring capacity across a broader range of contexts, including those entailing external feedback. Objective: This study sought to determine whether alcohol-related monitoring deficits are specific to internal recognition of errors (reflected by the ERN) or occur also in external cuing contexts. We evaluated the impact of alcohol consumption on the feedback-related negativity (FRN), an ERP thought to engage a similar process as the ERN but elicited by negative performance feedback in the environment. Methods: In an undergraduate sample randomly assigned to drink alcohol (n=37; average peak BAC=0.087 g/100 ml, estimated from breath alcohol sampling) or placebo beverages (n=42), ERP responses to gain and loss feedback were measured during a two-choice gambling task. Time-frequency analysis was used to parse the overlapping theta-FRN and delta-P3 and clarified the effects of alcohol on the measures. Results: Alcohol intoxication attenuated both the theta-FRN and delta-P3 brain responses to feedback. The theta-FRN attenuation was stronger following loss than gain feedback. Conclusions: Attenuation of both theta-FRN and delta-P3 components indicates that alcohol pervasively attenuates the brain's response to feedback in this task. That theta-FRN attenuation was stronger following loss trials is consistent with prior ERN findings and suggests that alcohol broadly impairs the brain's recognition of negative performance outcomes across differing contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-428
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This work was supported by grant AA12164 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and grants MH088143 and MH072850 from the National Institute of Mental Health.


  • Alcohol
  • Event-related potentials
  • Feedback-related negativity
  • Performance monitoring


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