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Just a Suspicion

23/09/2010

There is a Scots expression for describing a wee drink of whisky. “How much?” you ask.  “Oh just a suspicion,” they reply. Or sometimes, “Just a sensation…” Could it be they know something we don’t about the link between  the idea of a drink and the effects of the real thing?

How we value or experience things and why is a subject of some interest and debate. Sometimes our judgements are based on objective, observable factors, but often they are nudged by subliminal cues of which we are unaware.

Wine, for example, is rated as more complex if we think it’s expensive (which is why ‘blind’ tastings are so enjoyable), just as we are likely to think meat tastes better if we are told it is from a beast that has been reared organically.

At a time when we are regularly told that British licensing laws are leading to a yob culture and alcohol is making us all more violent, a new study by Baptiste Subra and colleagues casts an interesting and controversial new light on the link between drink and aggression.

In this study, 78 students were randomly assigned computer programmes giving visual word cues that were violent, alcohol-related or neutral. The researchers then repeatedly irritated their subjects, by requiring them to complete annoying and boring online tests, before measuring their levels of aggression.

The group primed with alcohol and drinking cues were  significantly more destructive  than the neutral cohort. In fact, they were just as aggressive as the third group, which had been primed with fighting words.

This upsets two common ideas about drinking and aggression: the biochemical model (no alcohol here) and the expectancy model – which holds that drinking situation gives permission (no drinking context either). So, you don’t need a bar or a party to nudge people into violence: the mere sight of a beer bottle might be enough.

Anyone who has worked with young  teenagers knows that a near drunken state can be induced by just the suggestion that there is alcohol in, say, a shandy or a fruit cup they have been drinking.

The implications this work has for policy are unclear but I have a suspicion that we are not all that different from those children.

Subra, B., Muller, D., Begue, L., Bushman, B., & Delmas, F. (2010). Automatic Effects of Alcohol and Aggressive Cues on Aggressive Thoughts and Behaviors; Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36 (8), 1052-1057 DOI: 10.1177/0146167210374725

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From → Health, Research

4 Comments
  1. A little alcohol is harmless and enhances life.

    BUT: Alcoholics spiral down in self-destruction. – I wanted to point my finger on to the connection between alcoholism and gluten intolerance. People are often not aware that their genetic make-up plays a role in the lifestyle choices they make.

    (Sorry that I am going tangential here – but this is much under-reported. I am in the process of putting together a list of diseases linked to celiac sprue – and alcoholism will be high on the list).

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physican, author.

  2. kalendarze permalink

    nice and really interesting. Thank you for this post.

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