January 25, 2012

Binge Drinking Linked to Explicit Thoughts

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Alcohol consumption increases with positive expectations

(dailyRx News) Widely accepted patterns of alcohol consumption suggest that both explicit and implicit behaviors influence the way people drink. A recent research study debunked that frame of thought.

A study done by scientific investigators in the Netherlands implies that our social thoughts, such as excitement to see friends or anticipation to meet someone new, encourage excess alcohol consumption.

Moreover, researchers discovered that those who associate positive experiences with alcohol also were more readily binge-drinkers.

"Speak with a therapist about your alcohol consumption. "

Corresponding author on the study, Helle Larsen, Ph.D., of Radboud University, defines explicit cognitions as thoughts that “can be accessed consciously, are intentional, and under individuals’ cognitive control.”

This is as opposed to implicit thought patterns which “refer to associations in memory influencing [mental and emotional] processes and behavior in a relatively automatic, unconscious way.”

In terms of drinking, explicit thoughts are the conscious actions bringing you to the bar while implicit thoughts are derived from your senses once you get there. To understand which of these cognitive processes was being used to influence drinking, the investigators used different forms of testing.

In all test scenarios, the staged environment and other implicit factors did not affect the observed alcohol consumed by the undergraduate students. On the contrary, explicit thoughts were linked to excess alcohol consumption.

The researchers discovered that those who stated positive associations with alcohol also more readily self-reported binge drinking.

dailyRx contributing expert LuAnn Pierce, LCSW, works as a personal therapist and finds the results of the study to be pretty surprising.

Pierce understands that explicit thoughts and actions “generally raise hopes, shape behavior and boost the mood of most participants;” however, she also believes, “unconscious memories, beliefs, thoughts, instincts and habituated responses that are triggered by stimuli in the environment (sounds, visual stimulation, smells, etc.) would likely have an impact, too.”

“Perhaps the simulated bar lacked the loud music, smell of smoke, ballgames playing on different channels from every direction and other background chatter that we're greeted with when we walk into a bar or restaurant,” deduces Pierce.

“Or, the Hawthorn Effect (that states people alter their behavior when they know people are observing them) may have come into play.”

Dr. Larsen and his team understand the subjectivity of their study as well: “Self-reports tap conscious attitudes that are susceptible to social desirability biases, and consequently these reports might not have much relation to real-world behavior.”

Nonetheless, Larsen concludes, “In a social drinking context, the subjective expectation of drinking might be a more [relevant] factor than the implicit associations.”

The scientists recruited 200 undergraduates to take part in the study, simulating three “naturalistic” drinking settings—two 30-minute sessions with same-sex peers and one 45-minute session with five to seven friends. Self-questionnaires determined explicit cognitions and word associations were used to unveil implicit thought patterns.

The study was funded by grants through the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research. Further analysis is necessary to conclude whether or not implicit behaviors affect alcohol consumption in a measurable format.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
January 23, 2012

Last Updated:
January 25, 2012