Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Alison Looby


The prevalence rates of binge drinking and heavy drinking among college-aged students have reached alarming levels. The negative consequences for these behaviors range from relatively minor annoyances (e.g., hangovers) to life-changing incidents (e.g., DUI) to accidental death. Deficits in executive cognitive function (ECF), especially deficits in working memory capabilities, have been linked repeatedly to problematic alcohol use. Given that it appears problematic drinkers with ECF deficits are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol and experience a greater loss of behavior control when experiencing cognitively taxing situations than problematic drinkers with greater ECF, further study of the impact of taxing working memory is warranted. The current study is an attempt to demonstrate the effect that depleting working memory resources has on alcohol consumption. It was hypothesized that participants who underwent working memory depletion would drink significantly more alcohol than participants who did not, and that individuals who experienced working memory depletion and who displayed poorer baseline ECF would drink the most. Twenty-four binge and/or heavy drinkers (66.7% men; M age = 22.95) participated in the study. During their visit, participants were randomized to complete either a task designed to deplete working memory resources or a control task that did not deplete working memory resources. After completing this task, participants completed an alcohol taste-rating task. The study hypotheses were supported, as the experimental condition drank significantly more alcohol and, within the experimental condition, individuals with poorer functioning

consumed the greatest amount of alcohol. These findings shed light on the cognitive processes that contribute to problematic alcohol use and support the investigation of cognitive interventions for a subset of problematic drinkers.