While our emotional responses can be changed by alcohol, our experiment suggests that an individual's moral judgement remains much the sameby Kathryn Francis / August 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
Many of us know that feeling of waking up, headache in tow, struggling to remember what we said and did after that extra drink the night before. And then suddenly, the memories vividly resurface.
Alcohol disinhibits us, making us say and do things that we’d otherwise keep under wraps. People will often drink to gain “Dutch courage” in a demanding situation. Many of us can understand the appeal of having a drink before a blind date or a social event—it can help to calm our nerves and cultivate confidence. That’s because alcohol has a depressant effect which makes us feel more relaxed.
Of course, alcohol’s effects aren’t all positive. We’ve all adopted nicknames for the characters that we become after a few drinks. Maybe you’re the “happy drunk”, or perhaps you’ve built a reputation for being the “aggressive drunk” who takes everything the wrong way after a pint.
The relationship between alcohol and antisocial behaviour is well documented—both anecdotally and in research. Plenty of arguments and fights stem from someone having had one too many. Scientists believe we behave like this when drunk because we misinterpret social situations and lose our sense of empathy. In essence, once we start slurring words and stumbling, our ability to understand or share the emotions of others goes out the door, too.
Own your drunken decisions
If someone has done something wrong while under the influence of alcohol, we tend to give them a “get out of jail free card,” rather than hold them accountable for their actions. We also extend these excuses to ourselves.
But in our research, we’ve attempted to paint a clearer picture of how drinking alcohol, empathy, and moral behaviour are related. In turns out that while consuming alcohol might affect our empathy, making us respond inappropriately to other people’s emotions and reactions, this doesn’t necessarily change our moral standards, or the principles we use to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.
In a recent experiment, we gave participants shots of vodka and then measured their empathy and their moral decisions. We presented images showing various people expressing emotions to our participants. After having a higher dose of vodka, people began to respond inappropriately to these emotional displays, reporting that they felt…