Many people tend to think drinking alcohol radically alters their personality, making them more social. Some people also rely on alcohol use to excuse behavior such as aggression. But according to research published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, outside observers may not notice significant differences in personality when a person is under the influence of alcohol.
Measuring Alcohol’s Effect on Personality Traits
To test whether alcohol significantly changes personality, researchers recruited a group of 156 participants. The participants completed surveys about their “typical” and “drunk” personalities. The surveys used the five-factor model of personality, which includes measures of extroversion, agreeableness, openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, and emotional stability.
Two weeks later, researchers invited participants to a lab, along with a group of three or four friends. Participants took a breathalyzer test, and researchers measured their height and weight to assess the amount of alcohol necessary to induce a blood alcohol level of about 0.09. This level correlates with moderate intoxication, and exceeds the legal alcohol consumption limit when driving in all 50 states.
At two points during the laboratory session, participants again rated their personality traits. Researchers also recorded participants, with trained raters assessing participants’ personalities based on the video.
Participants reported significant changes in all five dimensions of personality after drinking. They reported lower levels of agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness, and higher levels of emotional stability and extroversion.
The observers, by contrast, saw fewer changes in participants’ personalities. Overall, they only noted significant changes in levels of extroversion. The drunk participants became more active, gregarious, and assertive, but the observers said other components of their personalities remained stable.
Further Research on Alcohol and Personality Necessary
The study’s authors caution that it is unclear what caused the discrepancy in personality ratings. They suggest further research, particularly outside of a laboratory setting, is necessary to determine the effect of alcohol on personality. Further research could also shed light on strategies for reducing substance abuse and other negative outcomes associated with alcohol use.
- Comparing state DUI laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dui.findlaw.com/dui-laws-resources/comparing-state-dui-laws.html
- Personality may change when you drink, but less than you think. (2017, May 15). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-05/afps-pmc051217.php
- Winograd, R. P., Steinley, D., Lane, S. P., & Sher, K. J. (2017). An experimental investigation of drunk personality using self and observer reports. Clinical Psychological Science, 5(3), 439-456. doi:10.1177/2167702616689780
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