Thursday, October 13, 2011

Drinking culture [updated]

Some sense from Kate Fox at the BBC:
The problem is that we Brits believe that alcohol has magical powers - that it causes us to shed our inhibitions and become aggressive, promiscuous, disorderly and even violent.
But we are wrong.

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, "Oi, what you lookin' at?" and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, "Hey babe, fancy a shag?" and start groping each other.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.

There is enormous cross-cultural variation in the way people behave when they drink alcohol.

...the variation is clearly related to different cultural beliefs about alcohol, different expectations about the effects of alcohol, and different social rules about drunken comportment.

This basic fact has been proved time and again, not just in qualitative cross-cultural research, but also in carefully controlled scientific experiments - double-blind, placebos and all. To put it very simply, the experiments show that when people think they are drinking alcohol, they behave according to their cultural beliefs about the behavioural effects of alcohol.

...I would like to see a complete change of focus, with all alcohol-education and awareness campaigns designed specifically to challenge these beliefs - to get across the message that a) alcohol does not cause disinhibition (aggressive, sexual or otherwise) and that b) even when you are drunk, you are in control of and have total responsibility for your actions and behaviour.

Alcohol education will have achieved its ultimate goal not when young people in this country are afraid of alcohol and avoid it because it is toxic and dangerous, but when they are frankly just a little bit bored by it, when they don't need to be told not to binge-drink vodka shots, any more than they now need to be told not to swig down 15 double espressos in quick succession.
I'm surprised that the Beeb allowed talk about personal responsibility!

Read the whole thing...

HT: Anon.

Update: Harford notes the author has worked for the alcohol industry. Watch for one-sided scepticism, but it's also worth following up on the experiments noted. I'll see whether I can track down the cites.

2 comments:

  1. Gladwell wrote on this in New Yorker some time ago: http://goo.gl/fGICO
    I first came across this in a Norwegian book by a psychiatrist called Hans Olav Fekjær. He has written an english version available as an ungated pdf - you should find references to many of these studies there: http://goo.gl/6piRY (Unlike Kate Fox, this guy is no friend of the alcohol industry)

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