Intoxication and Memory: Are Drunk People More Better Witnesses?

Some people drink to forget. But it might be smarter sometimes to drink to remember. Researchers have long studied intoxication and memory. But the findings can conflict with “common sense.”

Intoxication and Memory Study

A study of witnesses illustrates this. It shows that witnesses to a crime who drink afterward remembered details better than sober witnesses.

Participants watched a video of a staged crime. Then researchers split them into three groups.

    1. Members of the first drank alcohol and knew it was alcohol.
    2. In the second group, they thought they were drinking non-alcoholic beer. However, it was really alcoholic beer. This was to ensure that any affects were from alcohol. That is, that it was not their expectancies about alcohol’s effects.
    3. Members of the third group did not drink any alcohol and knew they did not.

Then the researchers gave false facts about details in the video. For example, they suggested different hair color, clothing color, etc.

intoxication and memoryThe next day researchers tested their memories of the video. At that point, none of the participants had any alcohol in their bodies. Those who drank alcohol, whether they knew it or not, were less likely to report the false facts. In other words, they were better (more accurate) witnesses.

The abstainers (group three) were the weakest witnesses. Yet they were the most willing to give their false memories in testimony to a court of law.


Books on Memory


Gaw, J. et al. Alcohol-induced retrograde facilitation renders witnesses of crimeless suggestible to misinformation. Psychopharm.

Technical Readings on Intoxication and Memory

    • Bruce KR and Pihl R. (1997) Forget drinking to forget: enhanced  memory by alcohol. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 5(3):242–250.
    • Crossland D, et al. (2016) Intoxicated witnesses. Appl Cogn Psychol 30(2):270–281
    • Dysart J, et al. (2002) The intoxicated witness. J App Psy 87(1):170
    • Hagsand A, et al. (2013) Do sober eyewitnesses outperform al-
      cohol intoxicated eyewitnesses in a lineup? Euro J Psy Applied Legal Context 5(1):23–47
    • Harvey A, et al. (2013) The effects of alcohol intoxication on attention and memory for visual scenes. Mem 21(8):969–980.
    • Moulton P, et al. (2005) Alcohol induced impairment and enhancement of memory. Physio Behav 85:240–245.
    • Mueller C, et al (1983) Alcohol enhancement of human memory. Psychopharm 80(3):226–230.
    • Parker E, et al (1980) Retrograde enhancement of human memory with alcohol. Psychopharm 69(2):219–222.
    • Parker E, et al (1981) The alcohol facilitation effect on memory. Psychopharm 74(1):88–92.
    • Schreiber Compo N, et al (2012) Intoxicated eyewitnesses. Law Hum Behav 36(2):77–86.
    • Van Oorsouw K, and Merckelbach H (2012) The effects of alcohol on crime-related memories: a field study. Appl Cogn Psychol 26(1):82–90.


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