Drunks Know What Happened, They Just Don’t Care

August 18, 2014
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One of the great upsides of being a drunk is being able to blame our asshole moments on the booze and our decreasing tolerance, while testing our friends’ own tolerance for us. Maybe it’s loud behavior, an overreaction to something that hurt us, an inappropriate call in the middle of the night or a long email full of consequences to be revealed soon enough. It’s been a tried and true excuse for many years to many fellow drunks.

Sadly, that theory may be coming to an end and we might be hard pressed to come up with a better excuse from now on.

Drunks Know What Happened, They Just Don't Care

A Study led by Professor Bruce Bartholow at the University of Missouri, has found that alcohol doesn’t really impair our ability to control our actions; it simply makes us care less and act regardless of consequences.

67 participants were split in three groups. The first group of 22 people — 11 women and 11 men — were given a soft drink. The second group — also 11 men and 11 women — were given a placebo drink. The last group had 23 people — 12 men and 11 women — and were given vodka and tonic. After the drinks, the participants were asked to complete error recognition tasks on a computer.

The scientists measured the Error-Related Negativity (ERN), a component of the event-related brain potential (ERP), a brain response warning that the participant had made a mistake, while the subjects themselves were asked to report their errors.

For most people – and especially sober ones – it is very common to respond slowly following a mistake, as a way of trying to regain self-control. That was what they observed in their placebo group, too. The alcohol group participants, though, didn’t do this.

Drunks Know What Happened, They Just Don't Care

According to Bartholow’s paper: “The findings suggest that alcohol might limit awareness of errors at an immediate, automatic level, but that subsequent processes leading to recognition, perhaps associated with the further reflection on the response outcome, are not impaired by alcohol.”

So, basically, booze doesn’t make us do things we’re not aware of, it just limits our ability to feel shame, guilt or remorse about it, while also making us more honest and least likely to give many shits about the outcome of our actions. The bad part about this is that these feelings will surely surface when we’re sober the next day, effectively making our hangovers a little more excruciating.

I guess there’s always the option to keep on drinking, if you don’t mind alienating everyone else in the process. The silver lining? Maybe you won’t care that much.

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