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Facing Temptation in the Bar

Self-control failure leads to increased consumption of alcohol in young males. Making them more aware of their drinking, however, seems to counteract this effect and appears to be a promising strategy in facing the temptation to drink. This was shown in two experiments conducted by Roy Otten, Roel Hermans and colleagues of the Behavioural Science Institute of the Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Regulation of drinking behavior is a matter of self-control. Scholars argue that self-control draws on a limited resource of energy. Once this strength is exerted, individuals are lower in strength and remain so for some time. Self-control failure has been suggested as an important underlying mechanism of excessive drinking. A hard day’s work, a test at school, or any other cognitive effort causes our self-control to decrease, leaving less self-control for other activities (e.g., drinking). Otten, Hermans and colleagues examined in two experiments whether diminished self-control induces drinking behavior. In addition, they examined whether they could counteract the effects of diminished self-control by increasing people’s awareness of their own drinking behavior. Findings of their research are published in Addiction and are now online available.

In the first experiment hundred-six participants were invited to a laboratory bar. Participants in the experimental condition were asked to conduct a cognitive demanding task, participants in the control condition had to conduct a simple task that was not cognitive demanding. Subsequently, there was a break in which participants were asked to sit down at the bar and could help themselves to drinks from the fridge. They could either choose between alcoholic (i.e., beer and wine) and non-alcoholic drinks (i.e., sodas). Self-control failure lead to increased levels of drinking, but only in males (457.29 ml vs 276.46 ml). Female participants were found to drink less after the cognitive demanding task (61.62 ml vs 154.69 ml). In the second experiment the researchers focused only on males. The procedure was similar to experiment one. However, in this experiment, following the cognitive demanding or control task, half of the hundred-eight participants were asked to keep track of their drinks on a paper note. Those males who finished the cognitive demanding task and had to keep track of their drinks inhibited their consumption, whereas they increased consumption when their self-control was replenished but were given no instructions regarding their consumption (201 ml vs 520 ml).

Otten argues: “Our control-system is responsible for regulating impulsive behavioral tendencies. More than females, males are likely to drink when there is an opportunity; there is a stronger natural and automatic tendency to drink. When self-control fails, the impulse to drink will no longer be regulated or inhibited, which in turn instigates drinking. The fact that increasing self-awareness counteracts this effect is hopeful, and warrants the need for studies that introduce more creative ways contributing to increased awareness of alcohol intake in drinking contexts”.  

For editors:

Otten R, Cladder-Micus MB, Pouwels L, Hennig M, Schuurmans AAT, and Hermans RCJ. Facing temptation in the bar: Counteracting the effects of self-control failure on young adults’ ad-lib alcohol intake. Addiction, doi: 10.1111/add.12446 (unproofed accepted paper available online).

Contact:

Dr. Roy Otten, r.otten@bsi.ru.nl, 003124361 57 87

Dr. Roel Hermans, r.hermans@bsi.ru.nl, 003124361 57 87