One Trait Impacts if Alcohol Makes You Aggressive?

December 29, 2011 Kendra Sebelius

There was a recent study done at the University of Kentucky that looked at what trait would make people more aggressive when drunk than when they are sober. It is important to look at the study data as well as the protocols to be able to analyze the study, its findings and implications.

One Trait Has Huge Impact on Whether Alcohol Makes You Aggressivebst0022l

The trait that predicted more aggressive behavior while drunk was the inability to consider future consequences of present choices and actions. In my alcohol drinking past this was called, delayed consequences for instant gratification.

"People who focus on the here and now, without thinking about the impact on the future, are more aggressive than others when they are sober, but the effect is magnified greatly when they're drunk," said Brad Bushman, lead author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. "If you carefully consider the consequences of your actions, it is unlikely getting drunk is going to make you any more aggressive than you usually are."

Some Key Points to Remember

This study only viewed “social drinkers” and did not address problem or addictive drinkers.

The average age of the participants is 23, which is very young, and I would guess that a majority of people at that age think less about future consequences than the present fun they can have. In fact those who do consider future consequences over present gratifications may not drink or get drunk in the first place.

I would like to know how this played out in a real life setting, because aggressive people are going to be more aggressive when drunk. There is no mention on whether the study participants answered any questions about their tendencies to be aggressive in sobriety.

The ability to consider future consequences also flies out the window as people get more intoxicated. This is why we can often regret decisions we made when drunk, especially at 23. Sometimes the person we are sober, and the considerations we make about consequences when sober vary a lot when we are drunk.

Was this a consistent finding over time? Or just in one setting? It is important that even though the study has a few hundred people, it is a point in time study, and doesn’t show trends of peoples behaviors over time.

Traits are not necessarily static. The traits you have at 23 vary differently from when you get older, and learn more about who you are and the person you want to be.

Alcohol will make any behavior you do sober more extreme when drinking for the most part.

Study Warning

I don’t think aggression is so easy to predict, especially when alcohol is involved. Bushman says “results should serve as a warning to people who live only in the moment without thinking too much about the future. If you're that kind of person, you really should watch your drinking. Combining alcohol with a focus on the present can be a recipe for disaster."

This makes no sense, because if you are a person who lives in the moment, and doesn’t take consideration of future consequences, then you will not pay any attention to this study, nor the warnings.

I am not saying this study has no merit, because all studies do, all I am trying to point out is that it is only one study. It makes sense that people get more aggressive when drunk; and if they do not consider consequences then they are bound to act without consideration and thus aggression could be one outcome. I love the discussions surrounding delayed or disregard of future consequences for immediate gratification. In the addiction world, that is a truly important area of study, but this was a study of social drinkers, with limitations, and warranting an open eye when reading about in the media.

My Mini Rant on Research Studies Portrayal in the Media

Sometimes I read a study and get frustrated that there isn’t a dialogue about the limitations or further facts we need to consider when reading one. No one study is a fact. This is why we see several studies on similar topics, over periods of time. There are different variables, subjects, study sizes, study lengths, etc. Sometimes when I read a headline, I want to scream that it isn’t the entire story. I also wonder about people, who are unfamiliar with reading studies, whom read these stories and then re-share them, and consider them as true facts going forward. Also, is the study actually contributing to the field of alcohol and addiction research?

I think this is why I tend to write about studies on this website so much; I want to help de-construct and analyze studies, and help create dialogues, and help inspire critical thinking going forward.

Journal Reference:

1. Brad J. Bushman, Peter R. Giancola, Dominic J. Parrott, Robert M. Roth. Failure to Consider Future Consequences Increases the Effects of Alcohol on Aggression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.11.013

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APA Reference
Sebelius, K. (2011, December 29). One Trait Impacts if Alcohol Makes You Aggressive?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 5 from

Author: Kendra Sebelius

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