New research from Edge Hill University shows that the smell of alcohol may make it harder for people to control their behaviour
During the computer-based study, participants were asked to wear a face mask that was either laced with alcohol, or a non-alcoholic citrus solution. Participants were then instructed to press a button when either the letter K or a picture of a beer bottle appeared on their screen.
The researchers measured the number of times the participants incorrectly pressed the button causing a ‘false alarm’. These false alarms indicate a reduction in the participant’s power to inhibit their behavior when they were expected to. Results showed that the number of ‘false alarms’ were higher in participants who were wearing the alcohol treated mask.
The study entitled “Smells like inhibition: The effects of olfactory and visual alcohol cues on inhibitory control” was published in the scientific journal Psychopharmacology.
How the smell of alcohol impacts alcohol-related thoughts and behaviours is unclear, though it is well-documented that alcohol-related stimuli and environments may trigger these.
The current study, therefore, aimed to investigate the priming effects of both visual and olfactory alcohol cues on inhibitory control.
Alcohol-related visual cues elicited lower false alarm rates, slower reaction times and higher accuracy rates relative to neutral pictorial cues. False alarm rates were significantly higher for those exposed to alcohol as opposed to neutral olfactory cues.
By highlighting that exposure to alcohol-related olfactory cues may impede response inhibition, the results indicate that exposure to such stimuli may contribute to the activation of cognitive responses which may drive consumption.
Dr Rebecca Monk, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Edge Hill University said that she and her fellow researchers found that the number of these ‘false alarms’ were higher in participants who were wearing the alcohol treated mask.
We know that alcohol behaviours are shaped by our environment including who we’re with and the settings in which we drink.
This research is a first attempt to explore other triggers, such as smell, that may interfere with people’s ability to refrain from a particular behaviour. For example, during the experiment it seemed that just the smell of alcohol was making it harder for participants to control their behaviour to stop pressing a button.”
Studies of this nature could further our understanding of addiction and substance abuse by increasing our understanding of how context shapes substance-use behaviors.
“Smells like inhibition: The effects of olfactory and visual alcohol cues on inhibitory control” by R. L. Monk, J. Sunley, A. W. Qureshi, and D. Heim in Psychopharmacology. Published online March 16 2016 doi:10.1007/s00213-016-4221-1