The smell of alcohol may make it harder for people to control their behavior, according to new research.
During the computer-based study carried out at Edge Hill University in England, participants were asked to wear a face mask that was laced with alcohol or a non-alcoholic citrus solution. Participants were then instructed to press a button when either the letter K or a picture of a beer bottle appeared on their screen.
The researchers measured the number of times the participants incorrectly pressed the button, causing a “false alarm.” These false alarms indicate a reduction in the participants’ power to inhibit their behavior when they were expected to, according to the researchers.
The researchers found that the number of these false alarms were higher in participants who were wearing the alcohol-treated mask, according to Dr. Rebecca Monk, a senior lecturer in psychology at the university.
“We know that alcohol behaviors are shaped by our environment, including who we’re with and the settings in which we drink,” she said. “This research is a first attempt to explore other triggers, such as smell, that may interfere with people’s ability to refrain from a particular behavior. For example, during the experiment it seemed that just the smell of alcohol was making it harder for participants to control their behavior to stop pressing a button.”
Fellow researcher and Edge Hill Professor Derek Heim noted that studies like this could further the understanding of addiction and substance abuse. He added that the study needs to be replicated in real-world settings to “further its validity.”
“Our hope is that by increasing our understanding of how context shapes substance-use behaviors, we will be able to make interventions more sensitive to the different situations in which people consume substances,” he noted.
The study was published in the Psychopharmacology journal.