Why Alcoholic Men Lack Empathy—and Irony | The Fix
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Why Alcoholic Men Lack Empathy—and Irony

Alcoholic males are wonderfully good at identifying people's emotions, shows a new study. Honestly.

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By Valerie Tejeda

11/09/12

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If you’re looking for empathy from an alcoholic man, don’t count on getting much. New research shows male chronic heavy drinkers lack empathy, and also have trouble grasping irony. This may indicate that excessive alcohol use damages parts of the brain responsible for processing humor and emotions. European researchers studied 22 men in their third week of an alcohol detox program, and compared them to 22 non-alcohol-dependent men. The 44 volunteers were required to read stories that ended with either an ironic sentence or a straightforward sentence; they were then asked to complete a questionnaire about the emotional states of the characters. The study—published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research—found that alcoholic men were not only worse at detecting emotions, but also at detecting irony: the alcoholics identified the ironic sentences correctly just 63% of the time, compared to 90% of the non-alcoholics. The results may shed light on why problem drinkers get into bar fights. “Chronic alcohol abuse seems to have effects on the perception and decoding of emotional expressions,” says Simona Amenta, a post-doctoral researcher at Italy’s University of Milano-Bicocca. “It has been associated with…deficits in emotion recognition and verbalization, leading to difficulties in distinguishing and comprehending people’s emotional states.” Past studies have also shown that alcoholics can misidentify the emotions of those around them—mistaking sadness for anger, or happiness for a negative emotion. 

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