The next day effects of a normal night's drinking on cognition and human performance

  • Lydia Devenney

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This programme of PhD research aimed to extend the limited existing knowledge of the impact of the alcohol hangover on society. In particular, the aim was to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the next day effects of a normal night's drinking on cognition and human performance given the inconsistencies in methods and outcomes found in hangover research. In several literature reviews expectancy is considered a limitation of the naturalistic approach to cognitive and hangover research. To address this, a study was carried on two groups of participants, one where the true purpose of the study was disclosed, and in the other, the purpose was withheld. The results demonstrated little evidence to suggest that expectancy effects contaminated the outcome. This prompted the consideration of other variables that may contribute to inconsistencies in the findings.

The second study investigated performance in a non-student sample. In comparison to Study 1, similar findings were made in relation to response time measures and free recall, however drinking behaviour and non-response time measures did not mirror that of the previous study. A prominent aim of alcohol hangover research is to determine whether task performance is at the same level during hangover and no hangover testing sessions. This is useful at the onset of investigations, however to thoroughly understand the mechanisms at play, the processes underlying performance must be considered. Study 3 revealed important information relating to the way in which we process information with regards to signal detection. The results suggested that one's ability to accurately separate signal from noise is somewhat impaired during a hangover.

With regards to human performance, a scarcity of literature relating to physical activity led to the application of accelerometery methods to capture real time performance following a night of drinking. As expected the results revealed that a larger portion of the day was spend in sedentary activity. Sleep investigations also revealed disruption of sleep efficiency following a night's drinking.

Taken together, findings from this study indicate considerable implications for those working in high risk environments. All studies in this thesis employing cognitive tasks revealed impaired performance to some extent during an alcohol hangover. However, the complexity of the relationship between a hangover and cognitive performance was highlighted by the variation in results which showed that although most response time measured performance appeared to be impaired during a hangover, a blanket effect did not occur in that not all performance appeared was impaired during a hangover e.g. Divided Attention. This thesis has attempted to improve the methodological techniques used in hangover research and delineate the processes affected by a hangover.
Date of AwardMay 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGillian W Shorter (Supervisor), Noel Brick (Supervisor) & Kieran Coyle (Supervisor)

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