'Ape-earances' Can Be Deceiving for Many Under The Influence of Alcohol

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Alcohol and Vision

It's pretty difficult to overlook the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, or even an average-size person dressed in a gorilla suit. But a new study indicates that people who were given a simple visual task while mildly intoxicated were twice as likely to have missed seeing the person in a gorilla suit than were people who were not under the influence of alcohol.

The study, appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, is the first to show visual errors caused by "inattentional blindness" are more likely to occur under the influence of alcohol. This phenomenon occurs when important, but unexpected, objects appear in the visual field but are not detected when people are focused on another task, according to Seema Clifasefi, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at the University of Washington.

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While the research, a pilot study, did not test driving aptitude, the study has strong implications for people operating motor vehicles after consuming alcohol, according to Clifasefi, who is affiliated with the UW's Addictive Behaviors Research Center.

"Driving requires our full attention. We need to perceive information from a variety of sources when we are driving, but alcohol reduces our ability to multi-task. So we focus on one thing at the expense of everything else," she said.

"Say you have been at a party and are driving home after having a couple of drinks. You don't want to be stopped for speeding, so you keep eyeing the speedometer. Our research shows that you will miss other things going on around you, perhaps even a pedestrian trying to cross the street." In the study, 46 adults ranging in age from 21 to 35 were brought into a bar-like setting. Half of them were given drinks containing alcohol to bring their blood alcohol level up to 0.04

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