Separate and joint effects of alcohol and caffeine on conflict monitoring and adaptation
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RATIONALE: Caffeine is commonly believed to offset the acute effects of alcohol, but some evidence suggests that cognitive processes remain impaired when caffeine and alcohol are coadministered. OBJECTIVES: No previous study has investigated the separate and joint effects of alcohol and caffeine on conflict monitoring and adaptation, processes thought to be critical for self-regulation. This was the purpose of the current study. METHODS: Healthy, young adult social drinkers recruited from the community completed a flanker task after consuming one of four beverages in a 2 × 2 experimental design: Alcohol + caffeine, alcohol + placebo caffeine, placebo alcohol + caffeine, or placebo alcohol + placebo caffeine. Accuracy, response time, and the amplitude of the N2 component of the event-related potential (ERP), a neural index of conflict monitoring, were examined as a function of whether or not conflict was present (i.e., whether or not flankers were compatible with the target) on both the previous trial and the current trial. RESULTS: Alcohol did not abolish conflict monitoring or adaptation. Caffeine eliminated conflict adaptation in sequential trials but also enhanced neural conflict monitoring. The combined effect of alcohol and caffeine was apparent only in how previous conflict affected the neural conflict monitoring response. CONCLUSIONS: Together, the findings suggest that caffeine leads to exaggeration of attentional resource utilization, which could provide short-term benefits but lead to problems conserving resources for when they are most needed.
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