The BBC ran an online “Viewpoint” column yesterday in which social anthropologist Kate Fox explains that it is societal conditioning — not those 12 beers — that are making you act like a damn fool every Friday night. And Saturday night. And most Tuesdays.
The idea is that physically being drunk doesn’t make you behave any certain way — being drunk makes you behave in ways your society associates with being drunk. Fox uses the most British examples ever:
Our beliefs about the effects of alcohol act as self-fulfilling prophecies — if you firmly believe and expect that booze will make you aggressive, then it will do exactly that. …
In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, “Oi, what you lookin’ at?” and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, “Hey babe, fancy a shag?” and start groping each other.
She delineates “ambivalent” drinking cultures — countries like Britain and the U.S., where booze makes people smash things and make out with people — from “integrated” ones such as those in “Latin and Mediterranean cultures … where drinking is not associated with … undesirable behaviours — cultures where alcohol is just a morally neutral, normal, integral part of ordinary, everyday life — about on a par with, say, coffee or tea.”
And among the most convincing supporting studies in support of this is one published in 2003, in which researchers told students that they were being fed vodka tonics. The students started “acting drunk,” and it was then revealed that there wasn’t actually any vodka in their drinks.
So next time you start a fight or have a drunken sleepover with someone you met under a bridge, you might not be able to scientifically blame it on the a-a-a-a-alcohol — it’s society’s fault. And probably your own.