Monday, 13 July 2015

There are four kinds of drunken personality (among students, at least)

New, preliminary evidence suggests that undergrad drinkers fall into four different, colourful types, each with a particular shift in personality when under the influence. The findings could increase our understanding of why some students behave in harmful ways when drunk while others usually don’t.

Rachel Winograd and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia asked 374 student participants to complete a personality test twice, once considering themselves as they normally are, the other time how they behave and feel when drunk. The researchers conducted a cluster analysis on the dataset to find four types of student drinker:

  • Those for whom drinking had less effect on their intellect and conscientiousness than is typical, dubbed Hemingways in tribute to the writer’s reputed imperviousness to alcohol
  • Those who are introverted when sober but highly extraverted and unconscientious when drunk, who experienced the greatest overall personality shift thanks to alcohol, and are named Nutty Professors after the Jerry Lewis character 
  • Those who are very pleasant and harmonious (high agreeableness) when sober, and when drunk retain most of their agreeableness, conscientiousness and intellect; in all, they experience the slightest alcohol related change: the Mary Poppinses
  • Finally, those dubbed Mr Hydes due to their larger decreases in agreeableness, conscientiousness, and intellect when drunk

This last group is of particular interest. Although none of the types were linked to greater units consumed per drinking session, nor with binge drinking, the Mr Hydes were significantly more likely to experience negative alcohol-related consequences, including poorer grades, regrettable sex, or cravings for drink in the morning; this effect was in comparison to the Mary Poppinses, with the other groups falling intermediate. It’s also worth noting the Mr Hyde group had the highest proportion of women (two thirds, with the sample being overall 57 per cent women).

A few limitations to note. Firstly, each participant was also rated by a buddy in the sample, but analysis of their judgments didn’t suggest any clear typology in the way that the self-ratings did. The authors suggest that the shifts they are looking for may be subtle and internal, and overlooked by outsiders looking for stereotypical drunk behaviours, which I find plausible; even so, convergent evidence would have been preferable. The study looked at sober perceptions of drunkenness, so further work using observation of alcohol use in the lab or even the pub would be welcome. And of course, undergrad drinkers are not all drinkers, and older, alcohol-dependent home drinkers may fall into very different dynamics.

Previous research had suggested that alcohol-related personality change is a predictor of alcohol problems, but this research develops this understanding by attributing it to a type of change, rather than simply the quantity of change (as the radical shift of the Nutty Professors was not associated with greater harm). As such, it suggests possible risk factors that can help individuals understand why they are the ones suffering, when all they are doing is drinking like their crew do.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Winograd, R., Steinley, D., & Sher, K. (2015). Searching for Mr. Hyde: A five-factor approach to characterizing “types of drunks” Addiction Research & Theory, 1-8 DOI: 10.3109/16066359.2015.1029920

--further reading--
Round-up of research on the psychology of being drunk (scroll down for older posts)

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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