University of Wisconsin–Madison

Mechanisms for Intoxicated Emotion and Behavior

Alcohol has profound effects on emotion and behavior. These effects are both “prized and dangerous”, motivating drinking and causing the many deleterious effects associated with intoxication. Seminal theory (Steele & Josephs, 1990) implicated abnormalities in attentional function resulting from impaired cognitive control based on review of self-report and behavioral findings. Using contemporary methods from cognitive and affective neuroscience, we have provided direct evidence that both stress response dampening and behavioral dysregulation caused by alcohol emerge from impaired selective attention that leads to poor cognitive control of behavior. These findings have important implications for policy and prevention efforts aimed at harm reduction (e.g., drunk driving; sexual assault and disease transmission; intoxicated aggression) by managing the environments within which we drink.


  • Casbon TS, Curtin JJ, Lang AR, Patrick CJ (2003). Deleterious effects of alcohol intoxication: Diminished cognitive control and its behavioral consequences. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112, 476-487. PDF
  • Curtin JJ, Fairchild BA (2003). Alcohol and cognitive control: Implications for regulation of behavior during response conflict. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 112, 424-436. PDF
  • Curtin JJ, Patrick CJ, Lang AR, Cacioppo JT, Birbaumer N (2001). Alcohol affects emotion through cognition.Psychological Science, 12, 527-531. PDF
  • Curtin JJ, Lang AR, Patrick CJ, Stritzke WGK (1998). Alcohol and fear-potentiated startle: The role of competing cognitive demands in the stress-reducing effects of intoxication. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107, 547-557.PDF