Investigators found that the aggressive behavior occurred when people were subjected to provocation in a way that was not a clear-cut insult.
These findings will have implications for understanding the way people behave in situations where alcohol is present, including bars, sporting events, and parties.
While it is well-established that drinking alcohol can increase aggression, the finding that exposure to alcohol-related words (or alcohol priming) can provoke aggression, is a new discovery.
This effect was demonstrated in situations when they were provoked in a way that was ambiguous or not obvious.
The study was conducted via two experiments involving U.S. undergraduates.
In the first, half of the students were exposed to alcohol primes — for example, the words “wine”, “beer”, and “whisky” — while the other half were exposed to non-alcohol primes — for example, “milk”, “water”, and “juice” — prior to receiving feedback on an essay they had written.
Participants demonstrated increased aggressive retaliation when provoked by the essay feedback, but only when the provocation could not be clearly interpreted as an insult.
An unambiguous or clear provocation produced highly aggressive responses, regardless of whether a person was primed with alcohol or not.
The second experiment showed that the effects of alcohol priming are fairly short-lived — the effect begins to diminish after seven minutes and is gone after about 15 minutes following exposure to alcohol words.
It also showed that alcohol priming influenced aggression by making the ambiguous provocation appear more hostile.
Psychologist Dr. Eduardo Vasquez, of Kent’s School of Psychology, said: “These results provide another strong demonstration that exposing someone to alcohol-related words alone can influence social behavior in ways that are consistent with the effects of alcohol consumption.
“Our research also examined the parameters within which alcohol priming is likely to affect aggression. These effects seem to occur primarily when the provocation is not clear-cut and obvious, and are thus more open to interpretation. Under alcohol priming, the interpretation becomes more negative, and people become more aggressive.
“We’ve shown that people attending events where alcohol is typically present do not have to drink to experience, or be subject to, the aggression-enhancing effects of alcohol, a fact that would seem to suggest caution in all such environments.”
Source: University of Kent