A process-based approach to characterizing the effect of acute alprazolam challenge on visual paired associate learning and memory in healthy older adults

Robert H. Pietrzak, James Cobb Scott, Brian T. Harel, Yen Ying Lim, Peter J. Snyder, Paul Maruff

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Objective Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine that, when administered acutely, results in impairments in several aspects of cognition, including attention, learning, and memory. However, the profile (i.e., component processes) that underlie alprazolam-related decrements in visual paired associate learning has not been fully explored. Methods In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized cross-over study of healthy older adults, we used a novel, "process-based" computerized measure of visual paired associate learning to examine the effect of a single, acute 1-mg dose of alprazolam on component processes of visual paired associate learning and memory. Results Acute alprazolam challenge was associated with a large magnitude reduction in visual paired associate learning and memory performance (d = 1.05). Process-based analyses revealed significant increases in distractor, exploratory, between-search, and within-search error types. Analyses of percentages of each error type suggested that, relative to placebo, alprazolam challenge resulted in a decrease in the percentage of exploratory errors and an increase in the percentage of distractor errors, both of which reflect memory processes. Conclusions Results of this study suggest that acute alprazolam challenge decreases visual paired associate learning and memory performance by reducing the strength of the association between pattern and location, which may reflect a general breakdown in memory consolidation, with less evidence of reductions in executive processes (e.g., working memory) that facilitate visual paired associate learning and memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)549-558
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Psychopharmacology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • alprazolam
  • benzodiazepine
  • cognition
  • learning
  • memory

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