Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Alcohol breaks brain connections needed to process social cues

Date:
August 29, 2013
Source:
University of Illinois at Chicago
Summary:
Alcohol intoxication reduces communication between two areas of the brain that work together to properly interpret and respond to social signals, according to researchers.

Alcohol intoxication reduces communication between two areas of the brain that work together to properly interpret and respond to social signals, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

Their results were published in the September issue of Psychopharmacology.

Previous research has shown that alcohol suppresses activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for perceiving social cues such as facial expressions.

"Because emotional processing involves both the amygdala and areas of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex responsible for cognition and modulation of behavior, we wanted to see if there were any alterations in the functional connectivity or communication between these two brain regions that might underlie alcohol's effects," said K. Luan Phan, UIC professor of psychiatry.'

Phan and colleagues examined alcohol's effects on connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex during the processing of emotional stimuli -- photographs of happy, fearful and angry faces -- using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, an imaging technique that allows researchers to see which areas of the brain are active during the performance of various tasks.

Participants were 12 heavy social drinkers (10 men, two women) with an average age of 23. Their reported average of 7.8 binge drinking episodes per month -- defined as consuming five or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women -put them at high risk for developing alcohol dependence.

The participants were given a beverage containing either a high dose of alcohol (16 percent) or placebo. They then had an fMRI scan as they tried to match photographs of faces with the same expression.

They were shown three faces on a screen -- one at the top and two at the bottom -- and were asked to pick the face on the bottom showing the same emotion as the one on top. The faces were angry, fearful, happy or neutral.

When participants processed images of angry, fearful and happy faces, alcohol reduced the coupling between the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the prefrontal cortex implicated in socio-emotional information processing and decision-making. The researchers also noticed that alcohol reduced the reaction in the amygdala to threat signals -- angry or fearful faces.

"This suggests that during acute alcohol intoxication, emotional cues that signal threat are not being processed in the brain normally because the amygdala is not responding as it should be," Phan said.

"The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex have a dynamic, interactive relationship. How the amygdala and prefrontal cortex interact enables us to accurately appraise our environment and modulate our reactions to it," Phan said. "If these two areas are uncoupled, as they are during acute alcohol intoxication, then our ability to assess and appropriately respond to the non-verbal message conveyed on the faces of others may be impaired. This research gives us a much better idea of what is going on in the brain that leads to some of the maladaptive behaviors we see in alcohol intoxication including social disinhibition, aggression and social withdrawal."

Stephanie Gorka and Daniel Fitzgerald from UIC and Andrea King from the University of Chicago also contributed to this research.

This research was supported by a Brain Research Foundation Grant.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Chicago. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Stephanie M. Gorka, Daniel A. Fitzgerald, Andrea C. King, K. Luan Phan. Alcohol attenuates amygdala–frontal connectivity during processing social signals in heavy social drinkers. Psychopharmacology, 2013; 229 (1): 141 DOI: 10.1007/s00213-013-3090-0

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Chicago. "Alcohol breaks brain connections needed to process social cues." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130829144949.htm>.
University of Illinois at Chicago. (2013, August 29). Alcohol breaks brain connections needed to process social cues. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130829144949.htm
University of Illinois at Chicago. "Alcohol breaks brain connections needed to process social cues." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130829144949.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Do Obese Women Have 'Food Learning Impairment'?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) Yale researchers tested 135 men and women, and it was only obese women who were deemed to have "impaired associative learning." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Does Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Boost Urge To Drink?

Does Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Boost Urge To Drink?

Newsy (July 18, 2014) A new study suggests that mixing alcohol with energy drinks makes you want to keep the party going. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pot Cooking Class Teaches Responsible Eating

Pot Cooking Class Teaches Responsible Eating

AP (July 18, 2014) Following the nationwide trend of eased restrictions on marijuana use, pot edibles are growing in popularity. One Boston-area cooking class is teaching people how to eat pot responsibly. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Understanding D.C.'s New Pot Laws

Understanding D.C.'s New Pot Laws

Newsy (July 17, 2014) Washington D.C.'s new laws decriminalizing small amount of marijuana went into effect Thursday. Here's how they work. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins