Anyone who's used one-too-many vodka sodas or shots of Fireball as an excuse for last night's bad behaviour might have some 'splainin' to do, according to a new study that suggests alcohol doesn't have as drastic an impact on imbibers' personalities as they might have previously thought.
In a report published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, researchers at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health at the University of Missouri, St. Louis found that while drinkers often report drastic shifts in their personalities following the consumption of alcohol, their overall behaviours remain fairly consistent to outside observers.
The research team, led by psychological scientist Rachel Winograd, surveyed 156 participants on their typical alcohol consumption levels, as well as how they viewed the difference between their "typical sober" and "typical drunk" personalities. Those participants later returned to the lab in groups of three or four and were asked to drink and interact as a friend group. While some were given plain Sprite, others were given mixed vodka and Sprite beverages, which were specifically calibrated based on each participant's weight and height to bring their blood alcohol content to around .09.
After a 15-minute period, the groups were filmed performing different activities and puzzles designed to bring out various observable behaviours. Following the testing period, both the participants and a group of outside observers watching the recordings were asked to evaluate shifts in behaviour and personality post-consumption.
"The participants experienced internal changes that were real to them but imperceptible to observers," Winograd says, explaining why while you might perceive yourself to be a particularly happy drunk or sad drunk or angry drunk, that personality might be more internalised than externalised.
While the test subjects consistently reported experiencing higher levels of extraversion, emotional stability, and openness to experience, as well as lower levels of conscientiousness, outside observers didn't find the personality modulations to be nearly as drastic. While the observers did consistently rate the subject participants as having higher levels of extraversion (particularly when it came to assertiveness, levels of activity, and gregariousness), the other personality traits remained relatively unchanged from an outsider's perspective.
"We were surprised to find such a discrepancy between drinkers' perceptions of their own alcohol-induced personalities and how observers perceived them," Winograd says in a press release. The researcher notes that while "participants reported experiencing differences in all factors of the Five Factor Model of personality… extraversion was the only factor robustly perceived to be different across participants in alcohol and sober conditions."
However, Winograd doesn't believe this discrepancy means all drunken self-evaluations are completely false, but rather considers it to be a difference in perception. "The participants experienced internal changes that were real to them but imperceptible to observers," Winograd says, explaining why while you might perceive yourself to be a particularly happy drunk or sad drunk or angry drunk, that personality might be more internalised than externalised.
Winograd also notes that she and her colleagues "would love to see these findings replicated outside of the lab—in bars, at parties, and in homes where people actually do their drinking," to get a more organic sense of the effect of alcohol on personalities and see how this information can be "included in interventions to help reduce any negative impact of alcohol on people's lives."
So, the next time you chalk up your boozy Jekyll and Hyde-style behaviour to that extra round of beers, remember that your drunken personality might come closer to your sober self than you'd like to think.