The smell of alcohol appears to reduce people’s level of control over their behavior, according to research published in the journal Psychopharmacology. Research carried out at Edge Hill University in the UK suggests that even the smell of alcohol may make it harder for people to control their behavior, suggesting that it could attract people to consume.
Background: alcohol a social construct
Previous research has shown that behaviors related to alcohol consumption vary according to the environment. An “alcohol-salient environment” would be one where the idea of alcohol is pervasive, through visual and other cues.
Studies have suggested that the sight of alcohol can lead to physiological arousal and salivation. Such cues have also been shown to bring about changes in alcohol consumption. They appear to capture people’s attention involuntarily.
The more alcohol a person consumes, the more their attention will engage with alcohol-related cues.
In the current study, the researchers set out to explore how visual and olfactory cues relating to alcohol would impact people’s inhibitory control, in other words, their ability to control their attention to alcohol.
Participants in the computer-based study wore a scented face mask and carried out a task on screen. Some people had a mask laced with alcohol, while others had one laced with a non-alcoholic citrus solution.
Subjects then had to press a button when they saw either the letter K or the image of a bottle of beer on the screen.
If a participant pressed the button incorrectly, this was registered as a “false alarm.” A false alarm suggested that the participant had become less able to control their behavior when asked to.
The participants who registered the false alarms were more likely to be wearing the masks bearing the scent of alcohol.
The team believes that the sight and sound of alcohol might stimulate cognitive responses that increase the likelihood of consumption.
Dr. Rebecca Monk, who is a senior lecturer in psychology at Edge Hill University, says:
This research is a first attempt to explore […] triggers, such as smell, that may interfere with people’s ability to refrain from a particular behavior. For example, during the experiment, it seemed that just the smell of alcohol was making it harder for participants to control their behavior to stop pressing a button.”
Brazier, Yvette. “The smell of alcohol can affect behavior.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 21 Mar. 2016. Web.21 Mar. 2016. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308123.php>