Raising the Bar: Improving Methodological Rigour in Cognitive Alcohol Research

Charlotte R. Pennington*, Andrew Jones, James E. Bartlett, Amber Copeland, Daniel J. Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and Aims: A range of experimental paradigms claim to measure the cognitive processes underpinning alcohol use, suggesting that heightened attentional bias, greater approach tendencies and reduced cue-specific inhibitory control are important drivers of consumption. This paper identifies methodological shortcomings within this broad domain of research and exemplifies them in studies focused specifically on alcohol-related attentional bias. Argument and analysis: We highlight five main methodological issues: (i) the use of inappropriately matched control stimuli; (ii) opacity of stimulus selection and validation procedures; (iii) a credence in noisy measures; (iv) a reliance on unreliable tasks; and (v) variability in design and analysis. This is evidenced through a review of alcohol-related attentional bias (64 empirical articles, 68 tasks), which reveals the following: only 53% of tasks use appropriately matched control stimuli; as few as 38% report their stimulus selection and 19% their validation procedures; less than 28% used indices capable of disambiguating attentional processes; 22% assess reliability; and under 2% of studies were pre-registered. Conclusions: Well-matched and validated experimental stimuli, the development of reliable cognitive tasks and explicit assessment of their psychometric properties, and careful consideration of behavioural indices and their analysis will improve the methodological rigour of cognitive alcohol research. Open science principles can facilitate replication and reproducibility in alcohol research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3243-3251
Number of pages9
Issue number11
Early online date25 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors. Addiction published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Society for the Study of Addiction.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.


  • Addiction
  • alcohol
  • attentional bias
  • cognition
  • methodology
  • open science
  • reliability


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