Relating Alcohol to Aggressive Behavior From the beginning of recorded history, alcohol has been a part of human culture. However, it appears that the correlation between alcohol and violent aggression is a trait solely to the American culture. So the question that must be answered is Is it the alcohol, or is it the individuals expectancies while under the influence of alcohol. There has been piles of research done in an effort to answer this question and still the relationship between alcohol and aggression remains a mystery. In examining some of this research, there are some recurring themes and theories. The expectancy theory states that its is not the alcohol that causes aggressive behavior, but a persons expectations of what the alcohol does to oneself.
A similar theory, but one worth mentioning, is the Attention Based Theory. It states that when using alcohol, a persons cognitive resources are reduced. This causes a person to concentrate on only a few things, including emotion at the time, and pretty much block everything else out. This could lead to a person focusing in on anger and one having a heightened level of aggressive behavior. The final theory that has emerged is the Pharmacological Theory. This theory attributes alcohols effects on aggression solely to alcohol and how it interacts with the human body.
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There are other theories to sort through but, as I have found, these listed are of the more prevalent and plausible. The Expectancy Theory is based on the idea that it is the person consuming alcohol, not the alcohol itself, that causes the increase in aggression. Magnified a little more, the theory is about how a society perceives someones actions sober and under the influence of alcohol. In reviewing “Social and Behavioral Consequences of alcohol consumption and Expectancy: A Meta-Analysis” (Bond, Hull 1986) it is plain to see the contradicting research in looking at this theory However, the articles primary focus is on how “expectancy affects deviant social behaviors by providing an excuse to engage in otherwise inappropriate acts.” The analysis took a sample of studies to examine. To be considered the study had to be published before Sept.
1985, used that used balanced-placebo design (used a randomized factorial design in which an alcohol-placebo beverage manipulation was crossed with an alcohol-placebo expectancy manipulation).
There ended up being thirty-six total experiments found that fit these requirements. The results of the experiments were combined to summarize the alcohol and expectancy effects. Dependent measures identified were: aggression, alcohol consumption, physical sensations, mood, attentional focus, locus of control, helping, motor performance, information processing, physiology, and sexual arousal.
In order for the expectancy theory to hold true, the belief that one is drinking alcohol should have the same effects as alcohol consumption. The studies analyzed yielded interesting results. Internal sensations and mood seemed to be effected by the actual consumption of alcohol and relatively immune to the effects of alcohol expectancy. The results found inconsistencies in the moods aroused when alcohol was consumed and a significantly high amount of heterogeneity of expectancy effects.
This might indicate that expectancy has a more beneficial effect on mood in a humorous setting than in neutral setting (a humorous setting is hard to replicate in a research lab which accounts for this aspect missing in the data).
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The numbers show that physiological responses were not reliably susceptible to the effects of alcohol or expectancy. A sex difference is found, however, in the expectancy model of this aspect. Though not statistically significant, women showed a slight increase in aro y does not increase aggressive tendencies, it may even lower aggressive behavior in some cases. On the flip-side of the coin, expectancy does have significant effects on sexual arousal and alcohol consumption (loss of drinking control) while alcohol consumption does not effect these aspects.
The article concludes with the notion that both alcohol consumption and expectancy have effects on behavior. However, it is hard to say from the studies examined which data is comparable to other data due to the heterogeneous experiments and results. This analysis was honest with its findings and pointed out the confounds in the studies they evaluated. The researchers did not find exactly what they were looking for but they also did not find, in the data, evidence to end the debate either. I think the large variance in the results in the studies can be attributed to the fact that they gathered data by means of self-report of the subjects.
This leads to a wide array of problems, especially when alcohol has been administered. Subjects can lie about what they are feeling at the time or alcohol might make a feeling more intense causing an altered result in the data. The researchers also eluded to the fact that it is hard to replicate social situations in a laboratory setting, which could definitely effect how a person responds to alcohol consumption or expectancies. The attention based theory seems to be an extension of expectancy theory with a touch of the pharmacological theory. It is centered on the idea that the consumption of alcohol reduces a persons cognitive resources. This would leave a person with very little peripheral ability, enabling one to only focus on one idea or emotion at a time.
The term alcohol myopia is also used to describe this effect. I was not able to get an actual study on this theory. However, I did find an article that spelled out the ideas of this theory and how they work to effect a person. The article also seemed to like the notion of alcohols theorized ability to lower inhibition and tries to tie the two together. Though this is an interesting theory, it seems that it would be very difficult to research as it depends on reliably knowing someones mood before the consumption of alcohol and constantly measuring mood throughout the actual consumption of alcohol. I only know of one study done on this theory, unfortunately I was unable to locate the journal.
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The pharmacological theory hypothesizes that aggressive behavior is directly caused by the consumption of alcohol. Several studies can be found to support this theory. Of these, most were a variation on a study originally done by Stuart Taylor. The basic method in these experiments were the same. There were approximately forty subjects in every study I examined. Subjects were selected via telephone using a revised version of the Effects of Drinking Questionnaire (EDQ).
Subjects selected were categorized into two groups according to their responses on the EDQ; one that expected alcohol to increase aggression (EI), and one that expected alcohol to decrease aggression (ED).
These groups were then randomly assigned to two equally sized groups of which one would receive placebo drink and the other an alcoholic drink. The placebo contained a small amount of alcohol to prevent participants from determining what dosage they received. The participants would take the alcohol or placebo on an empty stomach, filled out a questionnaire on their mood, and proceeded to play a “competition game” with a fictitious other participant.
The game was based on reaction time where the participants would try to have a faster reaction time than their competitor. The loser of the game would receive an electric shock from their opponent at a level set by their opponent. The level of shock was based on a scale of 1 to 10 in regards to a persons unpleasantness shock threshold. The level of shock that was selected by ones opponent could be viewed on a screen prior to the beginning of the game (i. e. you could see what punishment you would receive if you lost the game).
... alcoholics (COAs). The topics being explored include depression, drug/alcohol abuse, aggression, physical & mental heath problems, and lack of ... psychologists (Knop, Teasdale, Schulsinger, & Goodwin). A similar study reports that the stress of the home environment often leads ... risk for alcoholism: School behavior and achievement.Journal of Studies on Alcohol Vol. 19, No. 46:273-278, 1985. ...
As the reaction time “competition” takes place the shock level the participant sets for his opponent is recorded and is the measure of aggression. The results showed that those who consumed alcohol (both EI and ED) were significantly more aggressive when provoked than were those who consumed the placebo. The both alcohol groups set the initial shocks higher than the placebo, however the EI group with alcohol responded more aggressively when their “opponent” started setting higher shock values (i. e. they set higher shock values based on the shocks they were receiving) than any of the other groups. The researchers concluded that alcohol has an effect on aggression when someone is being provoked and that expectancy only came into play when someone is being heavily provoked to respond aggressively, consumed a large quantity of alcohol, and expected their aggression level to increase because of the alcohol.
These results were reproduced throughout several studies. One study, however, used the same measures with the exception that they also added another dimension. They wanted to see the effects of alcohol combined with the effects of alprazolam (a benzodiazepine known to increase aggression).
In fact the findings of this study showed that the level of aggression in the alcohol / placebo , alprazolam / placebo , and placebo / placebo conditions were all roughly the same and the only condition to show significant increase in aggressive behavior was when the alcohol / alprazolam was consumed. Though these studies seemed to have produced hard evidence for the pharmacological theory, there are several confounds that make the argument fallible. First, a placebo drink is not an adequate substitute for alcohol.
Someone will know if they are actually feeling a “buzz” from the drink they consume, regardless of taste. Perhaps adding an intoxicating drug (one known not to increase or decrease aggression) dimension to the studies may have elicited more convincing results. Also, having someone report on how they believe alcohol effects their aggression levels is really not an effective way to gather valid data. Aggression means different things to different people and there are possibilities of people not being honest in trying to make themselves look more favorable (more favorable because they are not aggressive people).
... protect the participant subjects, organisations, and society from potential risks which may result from research studies (American Psychological ... These tests are widely used for research and clinical purposes. Other alcohol-related instruments are available but they ... Organisation (WHO) collaborative project on identification and management of alcohol-related problems (Babor, de la Fuente, Saunders, ...
Another confound to the studies is that expectancy appears to be an American trait as the theory goes, so including a cross-cultural aspect to the studies would further either one of these theories immensely. The amount of participants in most of the studies was rather small (about 10 participants per group) which, the researchers admitted, left a particularly strong possibility for individual differences to have profound effects on the research. Increasing the amount of participants per cell could have added to the credibility of the research. The participants were only given one way to respond in the competitions, aggressively. The studies could have been better served if another response was available to the participants. Even having the participants reporting on their mood during the games could have better gauged the amount of aggression displayed.
In examining the research on the relationship between alcohol and aggressive behavior, it is easy to see that the results often contradict themselves. Research in this area is hard to do well because of the reliability on the self-report method and the fact that alcohol is normally consumed in a social setting which is hard to recreate in a research laboratory. Furthermore, it is also hard to an American that doesnt already have hardened expectancies about the effects of alcohol that have been embedded by culture. If this wasnt the case, self-report would be a more reliable method of separating participants into various categories. Research in this area is far from conclusive. There isnt really a dominant theory that stands above the other.
It seems rather that the relationship between alcohol and aggression could be a result of the combination of expectancy and pharmacological factors. Bibliography various research journals.