Many of us are aware of the unpleasant feeling of waking up with splitting headache, struggling to remember what we said and did after that extra drink the night before.
It is well known that alcohol disinhibits us, making us say and do things that we’d otherwise keep under wraps. People often drink to gain “Dutch courage” in tough situations.
The appeal of having a drink before a blind date or a social event to calm our nerves and cultivate confidence is also very common. The depressant effect of alcohol makes us feel more relaxed. Of course, all of alcohol’s effects aren’t positive. People tend to adopt nicknames for the characters they become after a few drinks like “happy drunk”, or perhaps an “aggressive drunk” who takes everything the wrong way after a pint.
The relationship between alcohol and antisocial behavior is also well documented both via anecdotes and in research. Many arguments and fights get instigated after someone has had one too many. Scientists believe we behave somewhat improperly when drunk because we misinterpret social situations and lose our sense of empathy. Basically, once we start slurring words and stumbling, we lose control of our tongue as our ability to understand or share the emotions of others.
Own Your Drunken Decisions
After someone does something wrong while under the influence of alcohol, we tend to grant them a “get out of jail free card”, rather than hold them accountable for their actions. We even extend these excuses to ourselves in most cases.
But a recent research has attempted to present a clearer picture of how drinking alcohol, empathy, and moral behavior are related. They report that while consuming alcohol might affect our empathy and make us respond inappropriately to other people’s emotions and reactions, it doesn’t necessarily change our moral standards or the principles that distinguish between right and wrong.
In a recent experiment, researchers first gave participants shots of vodka and then showed them images displaying various people expressing emotions. They then measured their empathy and moral decisions.
They found that after having a higher dose of vodka, participants began to respond inappropriately to presented emotional displays, reporting that they felt positive about sad faces and negatively about happy faces. The more intoxicated people became, the more impaired their empathy became. It became apparent that having a few drinks weakened people’s abilities to understand and share the emotions of others.
But what was the effect on their morality?
Researchers asked their participants to talk about what they thought they would do in moral dilemmas. They were then exposed to a simulation of a moral dilemma in Virtual Reality to look at what they actually did. On such query is reproduced below-
Consider what you might do in one of these situations:
A runaway trolley is heading down some rail tracks towards five construction workers who can’t hear it approaching. You’re standing on a footbridge in between the approaching trolley and the workers. In front of you, is standing a very large stranger. If you push this stranger onto the tracks below, their large bulk will stop the trolley. This one person will be killed but the five construction workers will be saved. Would you do it?
Surprisingly, the researchers found that while alcohol may have impaired the empathy of their participants, it didn’t have an effect on their judgment of these moral situations or how they acted in them.
They noted that” If someone chose to push the person off the footbridge in order to save more lives while sober, they did the same thing when drunk. If people refused to sacrifice the person’s life in the same situation because they believed that killing was wrong regardless of the consequences, they also did the same when drunk”.
This led to the conclusion that while we might believe that alcohol changes our personalities, it actually doesn’t. You’re still the same person after a drink and your existing sense of morality is left intact. So it now clear that even though alcohol might affect how we interpret and understand the emotions of other people, we really can’t blame our immoral behavior on alcohol.
Drunk you have the same moral compass as the sober you making you responsible for your moral and immoral actions, whether you’ve had a few drinks or not.