New research has discovered reduced communication between two areas of the brain that work together in interpreting and processing social cues due to alcohol intoxication. Previous research conducted noticed suppression of activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for social cue decoding for things like facial expressions. Parts of the brain in the prefrontal cortex region are critical in cognition of emotion. Researchers became interested in exploration of ways the connectivity between these two areas of the brain are altered when alcohol is consumed.
A study conducted with 12 heavy social drinkers looked at social cue processing with one group being given a drink with 16 percent alcohol and the other group drinking a placebo (no alcohol present). The individuals chose various faces shown in a series of photographs demonstrating different emotions. The results were quite fascinating.
Researchers discovered reduced coupling and communication between the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex. The orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for decision making and informational processing. With alcohol exposure and intoxication, the reaction time of the amygdala to threats (angry, fearful faces) were diminished. As the amygdala is critical in processing emotional cues, any threat can be delayed or misinterpreted.
The amygdala and prefrontal cortex regions of the brain have deep connections in emotional processing in the surrounding environment. When an individual experiences alcohol intoxication, communication between the two areas is impaired and diminished. People who experience intoxication are not able to accurately judge the surrounding environment and cannot develop appropriate responses.
Some of the outcomes of this experience can include social disinhibition, aggressive tendencies or withdrawal. Understanding the neural trigger functions and how the brain changes under the influence of alcohol or other drugs can help facilitate further research into how and why individuals experience a decreased ability to process social cues in the environment while intoxicated. Each individual will experience alcohol intoxication differently but the same areas of the brain are affected in all people, albeit differently. Many factors including how much alcohol is consumed, length of time and other things can create a potentially challenging environment for a person who is intoxicated.
Social cue processing is critical for interpreting a person’s surroundings and environment to judge risk or danger to self and others. While intoxicated, it is possible to misinterpret one’s environment which leads to increased passivity or aggressiveness, depending on the individual. Each circumstance can be problematic which is why it is important to seek help for any situation where a person seems at risk of losing control of faculties including interpretation of one’s environment.
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