If you’ve spent any meaningful amount of time on the internet, you’ve probably seen one of those quizzes claiming to tell you what kind of drunk you are: the crier? The stealth-puker? Or maybe you’re the fighter, or the one who keeps insisting she’s nawwwt drunnnkkk and trying to get everyone to take moorree shawwwts. A decade ago, in college, I had the misfortune of meeting pretty much every type of drunk there is — as well as actually being a few myself. I never bullied anyone into taking another round of shawwwts, but after two bottles of Arbor Mist you could find me trying to mount my neighbor’s sheepdog and ride it around the apartment. Or belting out “Sweet Caroline” on the karaoke. Or YouTubing emotional scenes from The Color Purple and crying for hours.
The mornings after our drunken college parties would inevitably find my friends and I meeting up and reliving our antics, groaning about how “crazy” things had gotten the night before. But as it turns out, our drunk personalities, “crazy” as they were … weren’t actually that different from our sober personalities.
At least, that’s what the latest research says. In a study recently published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, a team of psychologists set out to examine alcohol’s influence on personality: Do we really become different people when we drink? Do we act outrageous compared to how we usually act? And when we think we’re acting outrageous — are we really?
For the first step in the study, 156 participants were asked to describe their typical sober and drunk personalities. Afterward, each subject had several mixed drinks over a 15-minute period and then completed a series of group puzzles and games with three to four other drunk friends (members of a control group did the same after drinking only soda). The volunteers rated their personality traits at two different points during the experiment; outside observers also viewed their antics on camera and made their own judgments.
In a statement, lead author Rachel Winograd, a researcher at the University of Missouri, said she was “surprised” at the difference between the participants’ impressions of themselves and what the observers thought. Once they were drunk, the study participants described their own personality as radically different across every one of the Big Five traits, claiming that they’d become less agreeable, less conscientious, less open to new experiences, less neurotic, and more extraverted. The outside observers, on the other hand, noted a small uptick in extraversion and nothing else.
The conclusion? Turns out we don’t completely transform into different people after a few drinks. And while we might behave a little differently, it’s probably not as drastic as we think it is. In my memory, my drunken college antics were truly wild. But in reality, maybe it was just a slightly louder version of what we’d otherwise be doing on a typical night. Except for trying to ride the dog — in hindsight, I’m still confident that that was ridiculous.