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ERPs to Alcohol Images among Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Female College Freshmen

Department of Psychology, Texas State University, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, TX 78666, USA

Research suggests that young women, particularly Latinas, may be at risk for problem drinking during the home-to-college transition. In this study, we used ERP cue-reactivity to explore physiological correlates of alcohol use and expectancies across the freshman year in Hispanic (H) and Non-Hispanic White (N-H) women. In the fall (t1) and spring (t2) semesters of their freshman year of college, 40 women (16 H) reported alcohol use and expectancies. At each session, N200 and P300 ERPs were elicited by two oddball tasks (counterbalanced within session): 1) to detect alcohol targets while ignoring control items (household object distracters) and frequently presented nonsense shapes and 2) to detect object targets while ignoring alcohol distracters and nonsense shapes. P300 amplitude was larger for targets (versus non-targets) and for alcohol images (versus control images), but did not change over time or differ by ethnicity. P300 latency results included time x target and ethnicity x target interactions. Latency differences for target images were attenuated at t2, and N-Hs were more reactive to stimuli classed as targets regardless of whether these depicted alcohol or control images. N200s had higher amplitude and longer latency at t2, suggesting a change with acclimation to the college setting, but did not differ by target status, image type or ethnic group. P300 latency was positively correlated with the personalismo subscale of acculturation indicating that individuals with more social, people-oriented personalities were more distracted by alcohol images when they appeared as non-targets. N200 amplitude was correlated with positive alcohol expectancies, and this pattern changed over time (t1 versus t2), suggesting subtle, expectancy-related changes in alcohol processing as students acclimated to the college setting. Taken together, these results suggest that the cue-reactivity paradigm described here may be a useful tool for examining subtle physiological correlates of college drinking.
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