Intoxication and Memory: Are Intoxicated People More Accurate Witnesses?

Drink to Remember?

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.”

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

Intoxication and Memory Study

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 information 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 information. 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.

Source: Gawrylowicz, J., et al. (2017) Alcohol-induced retrograde facilitation renders witnesses of crimeless suggestible to misinformationPsychopharm DOI 10.1007/s00213-017-4564-2.

Books on 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.

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

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

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

Söderlund S et al (2005) Memory encoding and retrieval on the ascending and descending limbs of the blood alcohol concentration curve. Psychopharm 182(2):305–317

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

Note: This website makes no recommendations or suggestions about intoxication and memory.