Alcohol consumption may have less effect on personality than people commonly believe, say researchers.
In a study published in Clinical Psychological Science, people typically reported a personality change between their sober and drunken state, yet observers watching from the outside noticed less of a change, with the only exception being increased extraversion among drinkers.
The idea that people’s personality alters when intoxicated is a popular one, but scientific evidence for this change is lacking and the science behind the concept of a “drunk personality” is unclear.
To investigate whether this personality change really exists, Rachel Winograd (Missouri Institute of Mental Health, University of Missouri, Columbia) and colleagues recruited 156 participants and evaluated how they perceived their personalities to change after drinking, compared with how researchers watching from the outside saw them.
Two weeks prior to engaging in a laboratory study, the participants reported on how they perceive their personality to be when sober and when drunk using the Five Factor Model of personality.
Once in the lab, half of the participants were given various alcoholic drinks designed to bring their blood alcohol level to around .09 and the remainder were given non-alcoholic drinks. After 15 minutes, the participants engaged in a series of group activities involving puzzles and discussion questions designed to bring out their personalities. During the session, the participants completed the personality measures again on two occasions while they were being recorded on video.
Observers outside of the lab who were watching the recordings also completed standardized assessments of the participants’ personality traits and behaviors.
The participants who drank reported changes in five major personality factors, namely, lower levels of conscientiousness, agreeableness and openness to experience and higher levels of extraversion and emotional stability.
However, for the observers, the only robust difference that was noticeable from the outside was the degree of extraversion. Observers rated the drinkers higher on three facets of extraversion: gregariousness, assertiveness and activity level.
"We were surprised to find such a discrepancy between drinkers' perceptions of their own alcohol-induced personalities and how observers perceived them," said Winograd.
The researchers say the reason both parties reported the difference in extraversion is probably due to extraversion being the most outwardly visible personality factor.
Winograd says the team would like to see the findings replicated in settings outside of the laboratory such as in pubs, bars or at dinner parties, where people usually drink.
"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 peoples' lives," concludes Winograd.