COLUMBIA, 12/7/11 (Beat Byte) -- Science can explain Mizzou football coach Gary Pinkel's (left) recent run in with the law, but the news isn't necessarily good. A new University of Missouri study found that alcohol dulls a brain "signal" that warns people when they are making a mistake.
The signal slowing doesn't reduce awareness, however, as the conventional wisdom has long suggested. Instead, it increases apathy. Inebriated people know they're making a mistake, but they don't care.
"Contrary to previous studies, our study shows that alcohol doesn't reduce your awareness of mistakes – it reduces how much you care about making those mistakes," said Bruce Bartholow, Ph.D. associate professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science.
Bartholow's team measured brain activity in 67 participants, ages 21-35 during a computer test designed to elicit errors. About one third of the participants were given alcoholic drinks, while the rest were given no alcohol or a placebo beverage.
Surprisingly, those who had consumed alcohol were no less likely to realize when they had made a mistake than participants in the other groups. But they were less likely to slow down and be more careful following the errors. "It is very common for people to respond more slowly following an error, as a way of trying to regain self-control. That's what we saw in our placebo group. The alcohol group participants didn't do this," Bartholow said.
The findings are an important step in understanding how alcohol contributes to mistakes and social blunders, Bartholow added. The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and partially funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.