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Research on the effects of alcohol and risk produces surprising results

In a report published by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, researchers have stated that whereas individuals find risky choices significantly more attractive after consuming a moderate amount of alcohol, groups do not.

This unexpected discovery is the outcome of a study into how group processes combine with alcohol consumption to affect risk attraction among young people.

The results of the study, which was conducted by Professor Dominic Abrams, Tim Hopthrow, Lorne Hulbert and Daniel Frings at the University of Kent, indicate that with moderate social drinking groups may provide an informal means of mutual regulation and monitoring that can offset some aspects of ‘alcohol myopia’.

Professor Abrams explained: ‘Until now, research on the effects of alcohol has focused largely on individuals. For example, as a result of drinking alcohol, individuals are more likely to be sexually irresponsible, aggressive or emotional. However, drinking within groups is a ubiquitous part of our modern social setting. It is not uncommon for people to make decisions as part of a group while consuming moderate amounts of alcohol – for example, in business meetings or at conferences.

‘To investigate how alcohol and group versus individual decision making combine to affect risk attraction, we asked participants who were alone or in four-person groups to indicate their attraction to a particular or perceived risk, after they had consumed either a placebo or alcohol.

‘Previous research shows that individuals become more risky after drinking alcohol. Much to our surprise we discovered that people in groups did not. Indeed it seemed that groups may have been more careful about their decisions to offset the effects of the alcohol, contrary to people’s stereotypes that when people drink in groups they become more unruly.’

Tim Hopthrow added: ‘The evidence from our research demonstrates that the effects of alcohol differ for groups and individuals and, in certain contexts, may differ from people’s intuitive assumptions about alcohol and its potentially negative effects, a finding that is both novel and important for the way drinking is managed as a part of social and working life.’

Gary Hughes | alfa
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