Getting drunk increases aggression in people who have one particular personality trait: the inability to consider the future consequences of current behavior, according to new research.
“People who focus on the here and now, without thinking about the impact on the future, are more aggressive than others when they are sober, but the effect is magnified greatly when they’re drunk,” said Brad Bushman, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.
“If you carefully consider the consequences of your actions, it is unlikely getting drunk is going to make you any more aggressive than you usually are.”
Bushman said it makes sense that alcohol would make these people more aggressive.
“Alcohol has a myopic effect — it narrows your attention to what is important to you right now,” he said. “That may be dangerous to someone who already has that tendency to ignore the future consequences of their actions and who is placed in a hostile situation.”
Dr. Peter Giancola, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, co-authored the paper with Bushman and led the experiments used in the study.
The study involved 495 adults, with an average age of 23, who were social drinkers. Before participating, the participants were screened for any past or present drug, alcohol and psychiatric-related problems. Women were tested to ensure they weren’t pregnant.
All participants completed a measure of how much the person considers future consequences when thinking about current behavior. They indicated how much they agreed with statements like “I only act to satisfy immediate concerns, figuring the future will take care of itself.” Scores on this measure determined how much participants were present-focused or future-focused.
Men were more aggressive than women overall, but the effects of alcohol and personality were similar in both sexes. In other words, women who were present-focused were still much more aggressive when drunk than were women who were future-focused, just like men.