Drinking Red Bull and vodka is a lot like a Crossfit workout or eating Paleo, in that it's damn near impossible to do any of them without reminding everyone within earshot. The difference is that those cocktail drinkers are more likely to raise their glasses to eye level, throw a meaty arm around your shoulder and remind you that they're so drunk right now, brah. But, according to a recent study, that extra buzz they get from combining energy drinks with booze is all in their heads, driven less by the actual beverage and more by the marketing push behind it.
The study was conducted at the INSEAD Sorbonne University Behavior Lab in Paris, and researchers learned that the participants' behavior could be influenced more by what they thought they were drinking than by the amount that had actually been consumed. The 154 male participants were all given the exact same alcoholic beverage, although they were told that it was either Red Bull and vodka, a generic-sounding vodka drink or an "exotic fruits" cocktail.
The researchers then presumably tucked their hands into the pockets of their lab coats and pretended not to be surprised that the Red Bull group was more obnoxious than the other two. "Red Bull has long used the slogan 'Red Bull gives you wings,' but our study shows that this type of advertising can make people think it has intoxicating qualities when it doesn't," said lead study author Yann Cornil said. "Essentially, when alcohol is mixed with an energy drink and people are aware of it, they feel like they're more intoxicated simply because the marketing says they should feel that way."
After throwing the drinks back, the participants were asked to spend 30 minutes completing tasks on a computer. In the first test, the men looked at pictures of 15 women and were asked to evaluate how confident they would be when speaking to the women and whether they'd be able to swap numbers. In the second, the men played a gambling-style game "in which they inflated a balloon and won more money as they pumped it up." They could cash out their winnings at any time, but if the balloon popped, they got nothing.
After evaluating both test scores, the researchers learned that the Red Bull group was both more sexually confident and more willing to take risks, a conclusion that they also could've reached by going to any bar in a beach city.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the men who believed that mixing booze and Bull would make them drunker were the ones who also perceived themselves as being more intoxicated. "[W]e found no moderation of experience but a strong interaction with expectations," the authors wrote. "These effects were stronger for people who believe that energy drinks boost alcohol intoxication and who believe that intoxication increases impulsiveness, reduces sexual inhibition, and weakens reflexes."
The authors believe that energy drink manufacturers should be more aware of the behavioral effects that their beverages can have. "Policy makers and food safety agencies in North America and in Europe have not paid enough attention to the psychological effects of consuming energy drinks, especially when mixed with alcohol," Cornil told Canada's Global News.
The only upside to that Red Bull-winged placebo effect? The men who believed they were drunker were less likely to drive, or were willing to wait to get behind the wheel.