AIM: To apply a new paradigm using transient changes to visual scenes to explore information processing biases relating to 'social' levels of alcohol and cannabis use. PARTICIPANTS: Male and female student volunteers (n = 200) not self-reporting substance-related problems. SETTING: Quiet testing areas throughout the university campus. DESIGN: A flicker paradigm, for inducing change blindness with lighter and heavier social users of alcohol (experiment 1, n= 100) and social users and non-users of cannabis (experiment 2, n= 100), explored the associations between habitual level of use and the latency to detection of a single substance-related or neutral change made to a scene of grouped substance-related and neutral objects. MEASUREMENTS: Alcohol use was measured as the number of units of the heaviest drinking day from the previous week; cannabis use as the number of months of use in previous 12. Change detection latency comparisons were used to evaluate processing biases. FINDINGS: In both experiments, (i) heavier social users detected substance-related changes quicker than lighter and non-users; (ii) lighter and non-users detected substance-neutral changes quicker than heavier users; (iii) heavier social users detected substance-related quicker than substance-neutral changes; and (iv) lighter and non-users detected substance-neutral changes quicker than substance-related changes. CONCLUSIONS: Alcohol and cannabis processing biases are found at levels of social use, have the potential to influence future consumption and for this reason merit further research.
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