A study published in the May 2014 issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that simply being exposed to words normally associated with drinking can spark aggression in some people. The study was conducted by an international team of researchers based in the U.S. and the U.K., including the University of Kent in Canterbury, the University of Missouri in Columbia, and California State University in Long Beach.
Alcohol “Primer” Words
Researchers interviewed two groups of undergraduate students. With the first group of students, researchers used words like “beer,” “wine,” and “whiskey” before talking with them about an essay they had written. Using these words was considered “priming” for the experiment. The researchers then gave students feedback about their essay, some of which was overtly provocative while other comments were intentionally ambiguous. The students’ responses to both kinds of feedback were carefully noted.
The second group of students was primed, but not with alcohol-related words. These students heard words like milk, juice and water. Following these alcohol related primes, the students were also given feedback on their writing. Again, some comments were patently provocative and others were not.
“Alcoholic” Language and Assuming the Worst
In both groups, when students heard feedback that was clearly offensive, they responded with increased aggression. However, only members of the group that had been primed with alcohol terms showed aggression in response to less-obvious comments. From this, researchers concluded that not only imbibing alcohol but exposure to alcohol vocabulary can make a person quick to imbue the words of others with a negative connotation, therefore making them more prone to aggressiveness.
A second test was performed to see how long the effect of alcohol lingo would last. The strongest reactions occurred within seven minutes of hearing alcohol-connected language. However within 15 minutes, the effects of those words seemed to have vanished. Thus, the effects of alcohol primes are rather short-lived.
The Link Between Alcohol and Misunderstood Motives
The study is in line with previous studies that show how drinking alcohol can tend to make a drinker misconstrue the harmless words and comments of those around them. This is one reason why drinking can lead to altercations: Alcohol impairs perception not just of sight, but also in discerning the intentions or motives of others. The new study demonstrates how just hearing words connected to drinking can mirror a similar effect.
Drinking alcohol tends to put a negative interpretation on passing words and actions. Hearing alcohol-related lingo appears to do the same thing. The study could shed light on helping to keep the peace when hosting or attending events where alcohol is served or in conversations where alcohol is a major topic.