It’s the alcoholic’s conundrum: Some people are fun and zany when they drink and some people are just drunk assholes. The mechanisms underlying the Jekyll and Hyde behavior have not been well understood, but now psychologists at Ohio State University have shed some light on the mystery.
The researchers recruited 500 volunteers to play a little game. The contestants faced off in a battle to see who could press a button more quickly after being given a cue. Whoever pressed the button first was the winner. However, the game was rigged and assigned winning or losing totally randomly.
The "loser" of each game received a shock as punishment, with the "winner" controlling the strength and duration of the shock. Half of the participants had been given enough alcohol to render them legally drunk. The other half was given juice containing a very small amount of alcohol.
Before the start of the experiment, all participants were given a survey designed to gauge their general concern for the future consequences of their actions. In both the sober group and drunken group, the subjects who placed little importance on future consequences tended to administer longer and more intense shocks. But in the drunken group, the increase in aggression was extreme. "They are by far the most aggressive people in the study," said lead researcher Brad Bushman.
Many of us know drunks like this. Sober, they might be "free spirits" and "live in the moment" types, but by their sixth drink they are belligerent, yelling, aggressively crying, and getting into text message fights with their exes. I'm especially grateful that some my friends aren't in the position to administer electric shocks to me.
The Scientific American article examining this study quotes Michael McKloskey, a psychologist who specializes in aggression. McKloskey explains that impulsive people often view their own frustrating situations through an egotistical lens. He said they view setbacks as happening "just to make their life miserable." When they become upset by anything they lash out. Everything is all about them.
So perhaps you should be wary of your more self-absorbed friends because drink may magnify their lashing out. Of course, someone being an egomaniac isn’t a perfect indicator that he’ll be a terrible drunk. But one thing’s for sure: If you’ve got a friend that has wild meltdowns every time you go out and he or she doesn’t slow down, they’re just being selfish