Study: People aware of their mistakes while drunk

Study suggests alcohol not to blame for irresponsible decisions made while intoxicated. Photo by Brittany McGrail/brittany.mcgrail@marquette.edu

“I was drunk,” may no longer be a way to avoid responsibility for your weekend behavior.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychologya publication of the American Psychological Association, people under the influence of alcohol are less bothered by, and oftentimes do not care, about the implications of their behaviors.

Bruce Bartholow, author of the study and associate professor at University of Missouri – Columbia, said because people are aware of their behavior while intoxicated, they should be liable for their actions.

It is common knowledge that alcohol impairs self-regulatory behavior such as responding appropriately in social situations. There is a great deal of evidence that alcohol reduces anxiety and stress.

But this study focused on people’s social behavior while intoxicated.

The 67 participants in the study, aged 21-35, were split into three groups. The first two groups received a placebo alcohol and the third group received alcoholic beverages. The participants in the third group drank until their blood alcohol content was at about .09 percent – just over the legal driving limit.

Participants completed a computer task after drinking, in which they were asked to identify flashing pictures of tools and guns. Bartholow and his team noted that all groups made mistakes. Afterward, each participant was asked if he or she answered the previous question correctly, incorrectly or was unsure.

“People who were drunk were just as likely to admit their mistake as those who were sober,” Bartholow said.

Experimenters measured participants’ brain activities during the trials. Bartholow said intoxicated participants had smaller brain responses to errors than sober participants.

He also said sober participants adjusted their behaviors and would slow down on the next trial after making an error, while intoxicated participants continued to make errors without adjustment.

“People need to be aware of where they are drinking and who they are with to understand the implications of their possible actions,” said Bartholow.

Bartholow noted the results were based on a particular dose of alcohol.

“There might be a level of alcohol intoxication in which these findings do not apply,” Bartholow said. “Participants’ BAC’s were such to impair their abilities, but they were not stumbling around.”

Some think the results of the study do not apply to college students.

Cassandra Defranco, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she thinks the results of the study do not apply to most college students because those who choose to drink consume more alcohol than what would result in a BAC of .09 — the level experienced by participants in the study.

Christina Kowalsky, a sophomore in the College of Communication, said people do not care about their decisions while drinking.

“Most drunken decisions are impulse decisions and people only decide it was a bad choice in hindsight,” she said.

Sebastian Fuentes, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences, thinks the reason most college students drink is to make bad decisions, but it does not make it acceptable.

“Even so, it is still not a viable excuse to say, ‘I was drunk,’” Fuentes said.