Alcohol and Memory vs Water and Memory: You Might be Surprised

Can simply the belief that you have consumed alcohol affect your memory of an event? We know that alcohol and memory are connected. But so are water and memory.

alcohol and memoryPeople who think they are drinking alcohol don’t perform as well as others on memory tests. Even when they’re only drinking tonic water with absolutely no alcohol.

Researchers used memory tests involving eyewitness accounts. People who falsely thought they were drinking alcohol were more swayed by misleading information presented after the event. That’s compared to those who were told their drinks contained no alcohol.

This finding is not surprising. Studies show that people who falsely believe they are drinking alcohol tend to act differently. These changes include greater aggression, higher sexual arousal, and greater confidence.

Alcohol Expectancies

Many of the effects of alcohol are a result of our expectations. We think that it will affect us in certain ways. We learn these expectations from our society. For example, in some societies people don’t think that intoxication causes disinhibited behaviors. So in those societies, drunken people don’t act in disinhibited ways.

Alcohol expectancies support stereotypes that can result in behavior changes. Thus, the myths that “gin makes you cry. Bubbly makes you flirt. And tequila makes you violent” can become self-fulfilling prophesies. In turn, these behaviors reinforce the stereotype.

alcohol and memorySo it isn’t surprising that people who falsely think they’re drinking alcohol don’t perform as well as others.

Water can be as powerful as alcohol. That’s something to remember.

Assefi, S.L. and Garry, M. Absolute memory distortions. Alcohol placebos influence the misinformation effect. Psycho Sci, 2003, 14(1), 77-80.

Resources on Alcohol and Memory

Eisen, M., et al. Memory and Suggestibility in the Forensic Interview. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2002.

Hendrix, D. and Holcomb, O. Psychology of Memory. NY: Nova, 2012.

Schacter, D. The Seven Sins of Memory. How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Schacter, D. Searching for Memory. The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. NY: Basic Books,1996.

Whitehead, A. Memory. NY: Routledge, 2009.