Booze Doesn’t Cut Your Awareness of Mistakes - It Just Makes You Care Less

According to a new study, drunken actions may truly be sober thoughts.


The experiment involved 67 people who were asked to complete a series of error-recognition tasks, like deciphering whether an image on a screen was a black or a white person’s face, or a pair of pliers or a gun. One third of the participants were sober, one third were given a placebo and one third were given alcohol.

After measuring both the participants’ brain patterns and their self-reporting of errors, the researchers found that those drinking alcohol were every bit as aware of the mistakes they committed as their sober counterparts.

The difference? The drunk people’s ability to feel remorse for their mistakes seemed to be significantly hampered.

If the sober participants made an error, they subsequently took more time over later questions, to avoid making the same mistake again. But the boozed-up participants who slipped up would carry on responding just as quickly as before.

“In tasks like the one we used, although we encourage people to try to respond as quickly as possible, it is very common for people to respond more slowly following an error, as a way of trying to regain self-control,” says study leader Professor Bruce Bartholow of the University of Missouri.

“These findings suggest that alcohol might limit awareness of errors at an immediate, automatic level,” the researchers conclude, “but that subsequent processes leading to recognition, perhaps associated with the further reflection on the response outcome, are not impaired by alcohol.”

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