You know when you venture out among people, find yourself at an establishment that serves alcohol and vow to drink responsibly, but then, after downing half a beer or a glass of wine or whatever, you’re like “heyyyy [bartender/train conductor/enterprising man who sells small water bottles of homemade jungle juice], one more of your finest!”
Because once the hooch goes down the hatch, the hatch wants more. Well, according to a new psych study, we needn't even taste that combo of everclear and unspecified juice-drink to lose inhibition. Once we smell alcohol, the research suggests, our discipline crumbles. All it takes is a whiff to make us think of the drink.
This idea is a sticky one, particularly for, say, alcohol manufacturers who want to lure in customers through their olfactory systems. But, the study itself raises more questions than it answers. Here’s how researchers at Edge Hill University determined the nose can’t say no:
College-aged participants strapped on facemasks that were either laced with alcohol or a “non-alcoholic citrus solution,” according to a press release. Then, participants performed a computer task in which students had to press a button every time a beer bottle appeared on a screen before them.
Participants who got the beer-laced masks, researchers found, pressed the button in error more often than those who donned the masks.
The fact that beer-mask-wearers got trigger-happy suggests, per the release, “a reduction in the participant's power to inhibit their behaviour when they were expected to.”
Without this study, research (and, well, life) had already shown that environment shapes alcohol-related behaviors. We’re more likely to imbibe at a wedding filled with old friends, for example, than at a Mormon funeral (or not). This research, however, is the first “attempt to explore other triggers, such as smell, that may interfere with people’s ability to refrain from particular behavior,” said study author Rebecca Monk, in the release. “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.”
A second study author said something that generally applies in small-batch psych studies (see: replication crisis) and feels particularly true here: “This research is an early laboratory based effort that, whilst promising, needs to be replicated in real world settings to further its validity.”
It seems plausible that someone would crave a drink after catching a whiff of a fine Pinot or Talisker. But, how persuasive are the results based on the study design? Maybe some DIY science can help us decide: Fill my mask with jungle juice of unknown origins and hand me a button.