We all think we’re more fun when we drink. Turns out we’re not.
In a recent study, psychologists at the University of Missouri found that there may not be much difference between our drunk and sober personalities, despite our perceptions of the contrary. In other words, alcohol doesn’t turn you into a suave superhero.
But as lead author Dr. Rachel Winograd sees it, the difference in perception isn’t a simple case drunken exaggeration.
“We’re able to comment on our own behavior because know ourselves better,” Winograd says. “We’re able to tap into smaller shifts that wouldn’t be visible to the outside eye.”
After enlisting groups of drinking buddies for the study, researchers observed the behavior of drunk and sober participants as they completed various tasks and games. They also recorded participants’ self reports of drunken behavior, which proved far more drastic than observer reports.
Drinking participants in the study reported significant changes in personality facets such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, sadness and anxiety. Aside from a marked increase in extraversion among drinkers
Other than becoming more outgoing, researchers saw no personality differences between drunk and sober participants.
“That said to us there are things people perceive when they’re drunk that others just can’t witness,” Winograd says.
There’s a fair amount of research relating alcohol to things like aggression and disinhibition, but Winograd saw personality as an underexplored area.
“We all know that people seem to be different when they’re drunk,” she says. “There’s good drunks, bad drunks, this and that. But no one was really looking at it in terms of this global framework of personality.”
As with any study, the goal is to translate the findings into clinical use to help people. The perception of drunk personality could possibly help in intervention-type situations with people who associate negative consequences, thoughts or behavior with their drinking.
Winograd admits there’s more work to be done before that point. But understanding that internal perceptions are more extreme than external ones is key. You might not have much control over how worried or sad you get when drinking, but you do have some control over the decisions you make.
“For example, if you’re prone to steep decreases in responsibility or caution, have some protective strategies for yourself,” Winograd says. “Leave your credit card at home, don’t bring your car keys, tell your friends to watch out for you doing x, y or z. Things to set you up for success rather than failure.”
And maybe leave a bottle of water on your nightstand.