What Makes a Mean Drunk?
An inability to predict the consequences of your actions makes you a meaner drunk, a study shows.
What makes some drunks merry and others prone to bar brawls? According to a recent study at Ohio State University, booze may cause meanness in individuals who are less capable of gauging the consequences of their actions. In the study, 500 men and women were asked to play a simple game. They were told they were playing against an opponent, and if they lost, they would receive a shock. If they won, they could choose the length and intensity of the shock given to their opponent. Before playing, the subjects were given a test to measure their concern for the consequences of their actions. It was revealed that the more impulsive individuals administered slightly longer, more intense shocks than their less impulsive counterparts. The subjects were then given alcohol—as they got drunk, individuals who cared less for consequences were much more belligerent against their—luckily imaginary—opponents. “They are by far the most aggressive people in the study,” says Brad Bushman, one of the study authors.
According to these findings, impulsive tendencies drive drunken belligerence. Luckily, these tendencies can be managed, says Michael McKloskey, a Temple University psychologist who treats aggression. He says impulsiveness often comes from a feeling of victimization—a person may act out aggressively because they feel the world is turned against them. But a sense of perspective can be learned—i.e. that guy didn't knock your drink over on purpose, so don't put a fist through his face. When people develop a more realistic perspective, says McKloskey, “they’re able to stay calmer, and they can keep their anger in check.”