Getting drunk as signaling behavior

by on January 15, 2010 at 7:53 am in Economics, Food and Drink | Permalink

Here is the abstract, I look forward to reading the paper:

It is argued that drug consumption, most commonly alcohol drinking, can be a technology to give up some control over one’s actions and words. It can be employed by trustworthy players to reveal their type. Similarly alcohol can function as a “social lubricant” and faciliate type revelation in conversations. It is shown that both separating and pooling equilibria can exist; as opposed to the classic results in the literature, a pooling equilibrium is still informative. Drugs which allow a gradual loss of control by appropriate doses and for which moderate consumption is not addictive are particularly suitable because the consumption can be easily observed and reciprocated and is unlikely to occur out of the social context. There is a trade-off between the efficiency gains due to the signaling effect and the loss of productivity associated with intoxication. Long run evolutionary equilibria of the type distribution are considered. If coordination on an exclusive technology is efficient, social norms or laws can raise efficiency by legalizing only one drug.

I thank Brian Dailey for the pointer.

1 josh January 15, 2010 at 8:03 am

The stole this idea from Kasper Gutman.

2 dave January 15, 2010 at 9:31 am

Oh no, economics is becoming sociology. Awaiting the studies on choice of urinal stall and children’s risk assessments at outdoor pools.

3 dWj January 15, 2010 at 10:25 am

Much of the richness of games with incomplete information is in people being able to pretend to be other types, to everyone’s benefit; I think one of the great benefits to alcohol is often that one can pretend to be impaired when saying something one might not say sober, and others can pretend to believe it.

4 anon January 15, 2010 at 10:28 am

Ah for the good old days when people used to get drunk just to get drunk!

And laid!

5 Eric H January 15, 2010 at 10:33 am

There is a trade-off between the efficiency gains due to the signaling effect and the loss of productivity associated with intoxication.

“[drink] provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance”

— W. Shakespeare, Macbeth II,3

6 Yancey Ward January 15, 2010 at 11:20 am

I am going back to grad school to study the economics of drinking. I already have my laboratories and supplies picked out, I just need funding.

7 vm January 15, 2010 at 12:29 pm


I don’t think the authors are saying signally and sorting are the only reasons people drink, just one. and their framing does nicely explain the hostility teetotalers often encounter in social drinking situations.

8 George January 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Anyone who does business in Japan knows all of this already–or they won’t be doing business in Japan for very long.

9 Robert Olson January 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Hahahahaahaha, the comments on that article were hi-larious. I forget how overly aggressive (defensive?) college students can get with just a little bit of intellectual power in the backpocket and a moral axe to grind

Referring to Kevin, of course

10 Barkley Rosser January 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm


Not just Japan. Try Russia. In some countries part of the game is to see who can drink whom
under the table, “holding one’s liquor” being one of those macho things to do, and those who
get drunk under the table in a business or diplomatic situation ending up getting their shirt
(or much worse) taken from them.

BTW, in Saudi Arabia it is nauseatingly sweet tea, brought by obsequious Sudanese tea boys,
glass after endless glass. There the game is not drinking somebody under the table, but a
contest of bladder control. He who has to go take a leak first loses. Another game they play
is to make shocking statements in a low key way. The first person who blows up rather than
merely raising an eyebrow in an arch manner also loses. If that person also has to go take a
leak first, they get tossed in jail as well (which can happen in Russia also to those under the
table, if not out on the street in a snowbank).

11 Steve Sailer January 15, 2010 at 3:29 pm

That’s the set-up behind the hit movie “Wedding Crashers” — young women feel more inclined to get drunk and flirty at wedding receptions because everybody else has been carefully invited as a respectable member of their social circle, so if they wind up in an affair with a male guest, then he’s likely of the right type. Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson, who aren’t the right type, exploit this by crashing weddings.

The same goes for dance clubs with velvet ropes and hugely expensive drinks — at least all the men there have some money.

12 Matt January 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm

How come when people get drunk they listen to bad music. It’s always like Kanye West, and never great musicians like Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy, George Coleman and Schoenberg.

13 Richard January 15, 2010 at 7:45 pm

re: anon suggesting publicizing top achieving students, etc. in order to replace drunken party status signalling. You’ve never been top of the class, have you?

14 AughtSix January 15, 2010 at 8:36 pm

“Awaiting the studies on choice of urinal stall”

Ask and ye shall receive…

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