Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Mark S. Goldman

Co-Major Professor

Emanuel Donchin


Alcohol expectancies, ERP, N400, P300, substance use


The current study investigated the cognitive organization of alcohol expectancies using event-related potentials (ERPs). Building on previous behavioral and ERP paradigms, the goal of the current study was to quantify the relationship among alcohol expectancies using ERP indices of salience, congruence, and cognitive distance. The ERP components being evaluated fit perfectly into the alcohol expectancy theory and research; however, implementing specific paradigms to reliably measure individual differences in alcohol expectancies using ERPs has proven to be more elusive than originally thought. This study utilized established cognitive modeling techniques coupled with ERP responses to linguistic stimuli. In essence, this study provides an implicit measure of how particular types of words, in the context of alcohol, are categorized and integrated into individuals' expectancy frameworks.

The study looked at two specific ERP components, the P300 and the N400, that have been shown to be sensitive to expectancy violations. In a sentence processing task the P300 was predicted to be related to individuals' alcohol expectancies and in a word pair task the N400 was predicted to index these expectancies. Results indicated that the P300 and N400 were both related to alcohol expectancies in the sentence task and the N400 was related to alcohol expectancies in the word pair task. While the results supported parts of the hypotheses, they were not unequivocal endorsements of the hypothesized relationships, perhaps highlighting the countervailing forces of salience and expectancy congruence. Furthermore, there were unexpected differences between males and females in the sample that interacted with the effect of expectancy on ERPs. In sum, prior research has highlighted individuals' expectations about alcohol as a mediator of biopsychosocial risk for alcohol use disorders (Goldman, 2002), and the results of this study provide a model for how ERP measures of expectancy could capture an aspect of individuals' risk based on reactions to expectancy related stimuli

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