18 May 2017

How much does your personality change when you're drunk?

You might not be a ‘mean drunk’ after all…

Maybe you think you're the life of the party after your third gin and tonic. Or maybe you worry you'll drink too much and turn into a "mean" drunk.

A new study finds that either view could be wrong – that despite what you think, your personality may not change all that much when you drink.

Assessing personality traits

Researchers at the University of Missouri – St. Louis had outsiders watch groups of three or four people engage in games, during which time some of them drank soda while others drank vodka cocktails.

To the observers, the partyers' personalities didn't alter significantly while they were under the influence – even though the drinkers themselves had predicted they would.

"We were surprised to find such a discrepancy between drinkers' perceptions of their own alcohol-induced personalities and how observers perceived them," said lead researcher Rachel Winograd. She's a psychological scientist at the university's Missouri Institute of Mental Health.

In the study, her team members conducted a laboratory experiment in which they assessed five major personality traits in 156 people – first when they were sober, then when they were drunk.

After drinking, the people who drank said they felt they had lower levels of traits such as conscientiousness, openness to experience and agreeableness, as well as higher levels of extraversion and emotional stability.

Focusing on the body, a Health24 article explains how alcohol can affect us physically:

  • Brain: blackouts, psychosis or even death
  • Heart: irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmia)
  • Liver: damage to liver cells
  • Penis: impotence
  • Bones: increase in bone breakdown
  • Feet: swelling as a result of fluid accumulation

'Internal' and 'external' changes

But for those viewing them and rating those traits, the only noticeable differences were in extraversion. Specifically, drinking resulted in higher levels of gregariousness, assertiveness and activity, Winograd's team said.

Extraversion is the most outwardly visible personality factor, the researchers noted, so it makes sense that both the participants and researchers saw differences in this trait.

The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

"Extraversion was the only factor robustly perceived to be different across participants in alcohol and sober conditions," Winograd said in a journal news release.

According to the researchers, the findings could mean that it's how drinkers feel that's key to their view on their "drunk personality", rather than what they do or say.

"We believe both the participants and raters were both accurate and inaccurate – the raters reliably reported what was visible to them and the participants experienced internal changes that were real to them but imperceptible to observers," Winograd explained.

"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 said.

Read more:

Too drunk to remember?

Who’s the mean drunk?

The science of getting drunk




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