Drunk people know what they're doing (and don't care), says research

Researchers are the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science conclude that alcohol merely cuts out our natural "alarm signals."

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Surely we will now understand history much better. Comedy Central/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Perhaps you, like me, have never been drunk.

Or perhaps you, like me, have never been in a state that you or I would call drunk. (There is always the eat dry yeast option.)

So we mightn't be aware that when people sip sauvignon blanc or carignan to excess, they speak disturbing words that turns out to be truths.

They regret them the next day, of course. Especially if they remember them or someone reminds them. This regret, however, might be slightly fake.

I have stumbled upon a piece of research from the University of Missouri's College of Arts and Science, thanks to Australia's news.com. This fine piece of work was called "Alcohol Effects On Performance Monitoring And Adjustment: Affect Modulation And Impairment Of Evaluative Cognitive Control."

In 2012, the researchers thought it might be instructive to give some people placebos, some non-alcoholic beverages and the last group full-blown alcohol.

I assume that Facebook had nothing to do with this research and that these guinea pigs actually knew what they were getting into.

The respondents were given a task and then asked about errors they might have made.

It's the conclusions, though, that deserve far wider consideration than they seem to have enjoyed so far. For Bruce Bartholow and his cohorts saw that the drunk knew exactly what they were doing, as much as those in other groups. They just didn't care if they'd made errors.

News.com.au quoted Bartholow as saying: "It is very common for people to respond more slowly following an error, as a way of trying to regain self-control. That's what we saw in our placebo group. The alcohol group participants didn't do this."

The role of alcohol, Bartholow believes, is merely to silence the "alarm signal" that warns us to control ourselves or difficult social consequences may ensue.

You can't say that.

Oh, yes, I can. I just choose not to. Now, hic, watch me.

Naturally, one wonders how much such a conclusion might extend. Does it really mean that the drunk really do want to kiss, insult, annoy, cuddle and headbutt those they do when drunk?

In some cases, they might be doing this to people they have known in the past and using the alcohol to lose their inhibitions.

But if the suggestion is that we are little more than bipeds whose animal instincts are still both primal and dominant, then this is highly distressing.

We're always wondering -- especially those on the West Coast -- who we really are. Can one conclude that our real selves are precisely our drunken selves?

In which case, I can see a very fine startup that sells devices that immediately switch on, as soon as our blood-alcohol level reaches the point of inebriation.

These devices will then record every single word we utter.

The next day, we can play them back and learn so very much about our true selves.