Regrets? I’ve Had A Few


Why do we make so many mistakes when alcohol is added to the equation? Researchers at University of Missouri College of Arts and Science, including Professor Bruce Bartholow may have the answer to this question.

Other studies have looked at the effects of alcohol on reducing alarm signals when we are making mistakes. When we make mistakes the parts of our brain responsible for monitoring behaviour increase, sending out the signals that tell us that we have done something wrong.  This recent study by Professor Bartholow has shown, unlike other studies, that alcohol does not reduce awareness of making mistakes but instead reduces how much we care about making those mistakes.

67 participants between the ages of 21 and 35 were measured for brain activity whilst carrying out challenging computer tasks to ensure that some errors would be made. One third of the group were given alcoholic drinks, whilst the remaining two thirds were given either non-alcoholic drinks or a placebo drink.  The participants’ moods, their accuracy in the computer tasks, as well as their perceived accuracy were also monitored.

The results of the study showed that those who had consumed alcohol had a less pronounced ‘alarm signal’ in response to their mistakes made than those in the other two non-alcoholic groups. However it was shown that those in the alcohol group were no less likely to realise they had made mistakes than those that had not consumed alcohol during the study, suggesting that alcohol did not make the participants unaware of their mistakes. The results also showed that the size of the brain’s alarm signal was affected by the participants’ mood at the time of carrying out the tasks, with the majority of those in the alcohol group stated that that the felt “less negative” after drinking than prior to drinking.

The findings of this investigation have given an insight into how “having a strong brain response to mistakes can lead to better self-control helps people avoid making further mistakes in the future” as said by Professor Bartholow.

So next time we lose our self-control can we really blame alcohol for our mistakes or is it that we simply care less about making them after consuming one too many? Looking at the findings of this study it looks the latter is more likely.

The study is due to be published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology with the title ‘Alcohol Effects on Performance Monitoring and Adjustment: Affect Modulation and Impairment of Evaluative Cognitive Control.’

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