Gambling is big business in the UK. According to NHS Digital, 57% of men and 54% of women reported gambling in 2018, while the Gambling Commission suggests that online gambling grew by 8.1% from 2019 to 2020.
During the pandemic, gambling changed quite significantly: while consumers could still buy scratchcards and lottery tickets in supermarkets and off licenses, betting shops were closed and sports matches cancelled, leading many activities to move entirely online. And according to a new study from researchers at the University of Bristol, although the British public gambled less overall during lockdown, among regular gamblers, rates of online gambling increased substantially.
Drinking culture is a huge part of university, with Freshers’ Week events often revolving near-exclusively around getting drunk. A 2018 survey from the National Union of Students found that 76% of respondents feel an expectation for students to “drink to get drunk”; 79% agreed that “drinking and getting drunk” is a key part of university culture.
This isn’t for everyone, however: a quick search of student forums will show many young people, pre-university, anxious about a drinking culture they don’t want to participate in. Now a new study in the British Journal of Health Psychology, authored by Dominic Conroy from the University of East London and team, has taken a closer look at students’ decisions to reduce their alcohol consumption — and what prevents them from doing so.
Recent years have seen the government take measures to try and limit people’s consumption of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods. Take the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks, for instance, or the proposal to ban adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed.
Some psychologists hope that small changes in design can also help “nudge” people into healthier behaviours. For example, a study from last year found that the order in which drinks are presented on the McDonald’s menu could encourage people to choose the sugar-free options more often.
Now a new paper in Scientific Reports suggests that the shape of a glass could also subtly influence people’s drinking behaviours.
Having a bit of a fuzzy memory is not an uncommon side effect of having had too much to drink the night before — and the details we do remember are often somewhat limited. The same can also be true for our attention when drunk: we’re only able to concentrate on what’s going on in front of us and not what’s happening elsewhere.
This phenomenon has been termed “alcohol myopia”: attentional shortsightedness related to alcohol consumption. A new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests this shortsightedness may apply to human faces, too — and that it could have an impact on how well people can identify perpetrators of crimes they witness while drunk.
The last time you and your class-mates or co-workers pulled an all-nighter before a deadline, you may have noticed:there are always those lucky individuals who seem to do just fine after a lack of sleep, while others feel drowsy and confused – almost like they had too much to drink.
New research conducted at the German Aerospace Center suggests this could be because alcohol intoxication and sleep deprivation are more similar than we once thought.
In their study published recently in PNAS, Eva-Maria Elmenhorst and David Elmenhorst and their colleagues show how both affect us via a shared mechanism. And what’s more, if you’re sensitive to one, you’re likely to cope poorly with the other as well.
Alcohol is not exactly known for its brain-boosting properties. In fact, it impairs all kinds of cognitive functioning, including working memory and the ability to ignore distractions. So it really should make it harder for someone to speak in a foreign language.
However, as Fritz Renner of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and colleagues, point out in a new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “contrary to what would be expected based on theory, it is a widely held belief among bilingual speakers that alcohol consumption improves foreign language fluency, as is evident in anecdotal evidence from numerous discussions in social and popular media.” And in welcome news for holiday drinkers (not to mention language students) everywhere, it turns out that, at least at moderate levels, this belief seems to be right.
I confess, I’ve tried having an alcoholic drink before giving a public speech, telling myself that it will take the edge off my nerves. But I’m going to think twice before doing so again: a new study in Behaviour Research and Therapy carefully monitored the effects of moderate alcohol intake on the speech-giving performance of socially anxious and control participants and while the alcohol made the nervous folk feel more relaxed, it actually harmed their performance.
Academically successful children are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke cannabis in their teenage years than their less academic peers. That’s according to a study of over 6000 young people in England published recently in BMJ Open by researchers at UCL. While the results may sound surprising, they shouldn’t be. The finding is in fact consistent with earlier research that showed a relationship between higher childhood IQ and the use in adolescence of a wide range of illegal drugs.
For millennia, humans have enjoyed using alcohol as a social lubricant. The reasons seem obvious at first. Most of us have had a drink or two that’s put us at ease, helped us lose our inhibitions, lifted our mood. And yet, literally for decades through the last century, psychologists and other scientists struggled to find evidence for what they termed the “tension reduction theory” that proposed alcohol was rewarding because of its relaxing, mood-enhancing effects. In the lab, alcohol often had no effect or even made people feel worse.
A new review in Behaviour Research and Therapy helps make sense of this mismatch between real life and the lab. Too much of the early research presumed alcohol’s effects are straightforward, that if you give a dose of alcohol to a person sat alone in a psych lab, that its pharmacological effects will kick in and make them feel jollier and less anxious.
The reality, as Michael Sayette of the University of Pittsburgh explains in his review, is that alcohol’s rewarding effects interact in complex ways with our thoughts and emotions and the social situations we find ourselves in. To uncover why social drinking is so rewarding, researchers have had to develop more sophisticated, realistic experiments. Here I’ve pulled out five of the key insights from Sayette’s review that help explain why so many of us find alcohol the perfect companion when we’re socialising.
It is a tradition in many cultures, especially in East Asia, for business negotiations to be accompanied by drinking alcohol. Motivated in part to wonder why this might be, Pak Hung Au and Jipeng Zhang, at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in China, have tested the effects of a small cup of beer (350ml) on participants’ bargaining behaviour.
The study in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organisation involved 114 people playing a bargaining game in pairs, some of them after a cup of beer, others after non-alcoholic beer (a test of a placebo effect) and some after juice. Each round, each player was allocated a sum of money between $1 to $10 known only to them. Each round they and their partner then had to decide whether to participate with each other or not. If both parties agreed to join together then their initial endowments for that round would be summed and multiplied by 1.2 before being shared equally.
As a pair, these rules meant the participants gained more money the more that they collaborated. However, collaboration was not financially beneficial to individual participants on those rounds in which they had a large initial endowment but their collaborating partner had only a small endowment. Generally what happened is that players opted to collaborate on rounds in which they started out with a small endowment, but chose not to when they had a larger amount. Part of the game involved deducing from any collaboration payouts and other clues how conservatively and individualistically their partner was playing, and responding as they felt appropriate.
In short, the researchers found that more collaboration occurred when both participants in a pair had had a drink of beer compared with juice (those who drank beer had an average blood alcohol concentration level of 0.0406; for reference, outside of Scotland, the UK drink drive limit is 0.08 or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood). There was little evidence of a placebo effect, and other financial games and measures used in the study suggested the effects on collaboration were not due to any changes in risk aversion, mood or altruism. Instead, the researchers’ analysis suggested that alcohol affected the way that players made inferences about their partner’s negotiating stance based on their collaboration decisions and other clues. “In settings in which skepticism can lead to a breakdown in negotiation, alcohol consumption can make people drop their guard for each others’ actions, thus facilitating reaching an agreement,” they explained.
The researchers warned that of course excessive alcohol consumption is associated with many health risks, and that the consumption of larger amounts of alcohol would inevitable harm business negotiations through its affects on mental performance and aggression. But they said their results do suggest that “consuming a mild to moderate amount of alcoholic drink in business meetings can potentially help smooth the negotiation process”.