- Test subjects given alcohol were found to be nearly 7 percent more likely to engage in ‘impure’ acts and 4 percent more likely to consider harming others
- But alcohol had no impact on morals like fairness, loyalty or respect for authority
Just one drink might be enough to make the average person more willing to physically harm others or behave ‘impurely,’ by enjoying deviant or animalistic acts.
That’s the finding of a small, but international team of neuroscientists and psychologists, after testing a carefully selected and diverse group of 329 participants, between the ages of 18 to 52.
The scientists surveyed their slightly tipsy test subjects and stone cold sober control groups across five broad categories of moral fiber — care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and purity — but only two were loosened up by that stiff drink.
‘Drunk people want to do more immoral things than sober people,’ one of the study’s authors said, reiterating time-tested conventional wisdom with the benefit of data.
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‘But we only observed it for two types of behaviors: related to harming others and related to so-called purity violations.’
Those subjects who had been given alcohol were found to be 4 percent more likely to consider harming another person or animal, and nearly 7 percent more likely to engage in ‘impure’ acts, the study found.
‘Alcohol has been with us for centuries,’ said the study’s lead author, psychologist Mariola Paruzel-Czachura‘it is commonly used in many cultures, but surprisingly there is little research to understand how it impacts human morality.’
Paruzel-Czachura, who is both an associate professor at the Polish University of Silesia in Katowice’s Institute of Psychology and a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Brain Science Center, hopes to see ‘more studies on this topic.’
‘These studies have huge practical implications,’ Paruzel-Czachura told PsyPost.
Paruzel-Czachura and her two co-investigators at the University of Silesia in Katowice and UPenn screened a total of 1,079 volunteers before settling on their final group of 329 viable participants.
The three study authors then split their lab participants into three groups: the test group that was given alcohol, a control group given none, and a placebo group whose beverages were lightly spritzed with alcohol to simulate boozy experience.
The test subjects were then asked to complete a Moral Foundations Sacredness Scale (MFSS) — an eight-point scale which varies from the questionnaires used in past studies, which did not explicitly examine the lines people won’t cross.
The MFSS gave the participants a series of moral decision-making scenarios.
It asked them, for example, if they would ‘stick a pin into the palm of a child you don’t know’ for the ‘care’ category.
And it asked them if they would ‘say no to a friend’s request to help him move into a new apartment, after he helped you move the month before’ to measure ‘fairness.’
For all questions, subjects drunk and sober were asked how much money they would need to perform the given task, across eight answers ranging from ‘I’d do it for free’ (0) to ‘I’d do it for 1 million dollars,’ to ‘never for any amount of money’ (8).
After much statistical calibration, to lessen the chance of false signals, the researchers found that the ‘experimental’ (drunk) group scored a 6.01 average on ‘care’ questions, compared to 6.33 for the controls and a 6.03 for the placebo group.
When it came to questions of moral purity, the controls scored an average of 5.98 while the experimental group scored 5.43.
As an example of one of the MFSS questions to test purity, the authors asked their test subjects to imagine that they were asking to ‘attend a performance art piece in which all participants (including them) have to act like animals for 30 min.’
The hypothetical art piece would involve them and all the other attendees ‘crawling around naked and urinating on stage.’
The researchers theorized that the lack of change in answers regarding fairness, loyalty, and authority might be because these morals tend to indicate core values.
‘These foundations are typically the most important for people,’ the researchers wrote, in their paper, published this August in the peer-reviewed journal Psychopharmacology‘as suggested by previous studies ‘
‘Lastly, we conducted an exploratory analysis to identify the items most differentiated the participants,’ the authors noted.
For the care category, the question that most divided the participants was whether or not they would ‘kick a dog in the head hard.’
For the purity category, the most divisive question was whether the test subject would ‘get a blood transfusion of 1 pint of disease-free, compatible blood from a convicted child molester.’
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