While I personally find myself exceptionally difficult to be around when I imbibe, a new study out of the University of Missouri, St. Louis has found that alcohol doesn’t actually affect our personalities as much as we think it does.
Researchers at the university recruited 156 participants and asked each of them to fill out a survey on their typical alcohol consumption and to determine what participants believed to be their “drunk personality” versus their “sober personality.” If you’ve ever joked that tequila makes you frisky, that vodka makes you happy or that gin causes your pants to drop, you’re referring to your drunk personality.
Subjects were then invited to a lab with three of their closest friends where they consumed cocktails over a timespan of 15 minutes. Afterward, they participated in group activities wherein they solved puzzles and engaged in group discussions. Each of the activities were strategically implemented throughout the evening so that the study’s observers could discern whether subjects displayed certain “drunk” personality traits. Researchers evaluated personalities across five factors: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
After drinking, participants self-reported that almost every aspect of their personalities had changed and reported lower levels of agreeableness and openness and higher levels of extraversion and emotional stability. The observers, on the other hand, noticed little change except in one trait: extraversion. But being more extraverted didn’t mean participants were more agreeable or open; in fact, they self-reported being less of both. Meanwhile, researchers perceived them to have the same levels of both. Thus, the myth of the happy drunk.
“We were surprised to find such a discrepancy between drinkers’ perceptions of their own alcohol-induced personalities and how observers perceived them,” said psychological scientist Dr. Rachel Winograd. “Participants reported experiencing differences in all factors of personality, but extraversion was the only factor robustly perceived to be different across participants in alcohol and sober conditions.”
In sum, this study only confirms that drunk people talk way too much and way too loudly, something we’ve all noticed when we’ve been designated drivers for an evening.
“Of course, we also would love to see these findings replicated outside of the lab—in bars, at parties and in homes where people actually do their drinking,” Winograd added. “Most importantly, we need to see how this work is most relevant in the clinical realm and can be effectively included in interventions to help reduce any negative impact of alcohol on people’s lives.”