What happens when you get drunk?

Malcolm Gladwell presents a hypothesis which I hadn't heard before:

Put a stressed-out drinker in front of an exciting football game and he’ll forget his troubles. But put him in a quiet bar somewhere, all by himself and he’ll grow mare anxious. Alcohol's principal effect is to narrow our emotional and mental field of vision.

It causes, “a state of short- sightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion." Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the in the background disappear. That’s why drinking makes you think you are attractive when the world thinks otherwise: the alcohol removes the little constraining voice from the outside world that normally keeps our self-assessments in check. Drinking relaxes the man watching football because the game is front and center, and alcohol makes every secondary consideration fade away. But in a quiet bar his problems are front and center and every potentially comforting or mitigating thought recedes. Drunkenness is not disinhibition. Drunkenness is myopia.

The gated link is here.  One of the associated researchers with this point — Claude Steele — is the twin brother of Shelby Steele.  Robert Josephs has done some of the related work with Steele.  You can buy their core piece for $11.95.  Here is an interesting piece by Steele on how "drinking away your troubles" works.  Here is a very useful survey piece by Josephs (and others) on the "alcohol myopia" hypothesis.

Here is an hour-long interview with Steele (which I have not heard).  Steele is now Provost at Columbia University.


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