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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1985 Jan;48(1):18-34.

Alcohol and social behavior I: The psychology of drunken excess.


Drinking alcohol clearly has important effect on social behaviors, such as increasing aggression, self-disclosure, sexual adventuresomeness, and so on. Research has shown that these effects can stem from beliefs we hold about alcohol effects. Less is known about how alcohol itself affects these behaviors. A cognitive explanation, that alcohol impairs the information processing needed to inhibit response impulses--the abilities to foresee negative consequences of the response, to recall inhibiting standards, and so on--has begun to emerge. We hypothesize that alcohol impairment will make a social response more extreme or excessive when the response is pressured by both inhibiting and instigating cues--in our terms, when it is under inhibitory response conflict. In that case, alcohol's damage to inhibitory processing allows instigating pressures more sway over the response, increasing its extremeness. In the present meta-analysis, each published test of alcohol's effect on a social, or socially significant behavior was rated (validated against independent judges) as to whether it was under high or low inhibitory conflict. Over low-conflict tests, intoxicated subjects behaved only a tenth of a standard deviation more extremely than their sober controls, whereas over high-conflict tests they were a full standard deviation more extreme. The effect of conflict increased with alcohol dosage, was shown not to be mediated by drinking expectancies, and generalized with few exceptions across the 34 studies and 12 social behaviors included in this analysis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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