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Drink and you'll miss it

July 10, 2006|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

DRINKING a moderate amount of alcohol -- say, a couple of beers -- might not seem like a lot, but it can make people oblivious to seeing certain things. Even a gorilla.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle gave 23 people enough alcohol to reach a blood alcohol level of 0.04% (half the legal limit in many states and about 2 1/2 beers for a 180-pound man). A second group of 23 people drank no alcohol.

The researchers then showed members of both groups a 25-second video clip in which two teams passed a ball back and forth -- and asked them to count the number of times one team passed the ball. During the clip, a person in a gorilla suit walks through the crowd, thumps its chest and walks off.

Researchers found that 46% in the control group saw the gorilla, but only 18% in the alcohol group did so.

"Alcohol limits our attention span and is doing something to the brain cognitively, picking up on some information at the expense of other information," says Seema Clifasefi, a senior research fellow and lead author of the study.

She plans to do further research, including testing the effects of various doses of alcohol on driving. "What happens when we get people to the legal limit?" she asks. "What kind of information is going to be lost at the expense of other information?"

The study appears in this month's issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology.

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