Intoxication and Judgment

An experimental study has found that intoxicated people were more likely than sober people to defer gratification for financial gain.

The experimental study, conducted by Prof. Catherine Ortner and her team of psychologists at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, divided male college undergraduates students into three groups: sober, intoxicated, and a control group who received drinks flavored with alcohol but not enough to intoxicate.

It was hypothesized that the intoxicated group would select immediate rewards over delayed, but greater, rewards. All students were given the chance of receiving $15 at the end of the session or $30 later.

Contrary to expectations, the intoxicated students were more likely to defer gratification and select the $30. Thus, our common assumption that intoxication necessarily leads to rash decisions may not be correct In the authors’ words, “alcohol does not always increase cognitive impulsivity and may lead to more cautious decision-making under certain conditions.”

These findings reflect those of Prof. Tara MacDonald at Queen’s University. Dr. MacDonald said the findings support other findings that drunk people are not inherently more irresponsible than sober people.

Both the Ortner and MacDonald studies are consistent with both experimental and cross-cultural evidence demonstrating that intoxicated people have much more control over their behavior than is generally recognized in our society.

In short, intoxication is not an excuse for engaging in otherwise unacceptable behavior.


  • Ortner, C., et al. Alcohol intoxication reduces impulsivity in the delay-discounting paragism. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2003, 38, 151-156.
  • Poole, R. Study surprise: Alcohol boosts good judgment. National Post (Canada), 5-27-03.

Filed Under: Alcohol Abuse