You don’t have to drink to show intoxicated recall and behavior!
Last year we blogged about a surprising study showing the recall accuracy of intoxicated witnesses. In that study, research participants who’d been drinking were just as accurate as sober research participants in describing events they had observed. New research, however, aligns more with what we expected regarding perceptual impairment from drinking. Well, sort of…
What the research actually shows is that you don’t have to have been drinking at all–merely seeing billboards or other images of alcohol is enough!
“Simply seeing images of alcohol, but not drinking it, influences behaviors like racial bias on a subconscious level. Walking by a bar or seeing an ad for beer could be enough to affect someone’s mindset. You don’t have to be aware of the effects for it to affect you”.
It reminds those of us of a certain age of Jimmy Carter’s comment that while he had always been faithful to his wife, he had “sinned in his heart”. Here we have people acting as if under the influence merely by being exposed to the idea of drinking. This obviously has scary ramifications for all of us since the media is saturated with images of alcohol and lunch or dinner at a restaurant can result in looking at both images on the menu and ‘samples’ at tables about you whether you actually drink or not. You could close your eyes but ultimately there appears no other way to avoid this sort of bias exposure. It could be kind of humorous if it wasn’t also pretty disturbing in its scope.
Here’s a succinct description of the actual process the researchers used to test their hypothesis:
“The recent study found that participants who had initially viewed a series of magazine ads for alcoholic beverages made more errors indicative of racial bias in a subsequent task than did others who had initially seen ads for non-alcoholic beverages, such as water or coffee.
Test participants were shown a series of ads for either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. They then completed a computerized task in which pictures of white and black men’s faces were shown for a split second, followed immediately by either a picture of a handgun or a tool. Numerous previous studies using this same task have shown that people often mistakenly identify tools as guns following presentation of a black face, a response pattern attributed to the effects of racial stereotypes. The fast pace of the experiment kept participants from thinking about their responses, which allowed the subconscious mind to control reactions.”
What this research (along with other studies we have reported to you) demonstrates is that in 2012, we still assume black men are aggressive, violent and dangerous. We still assume white men are higher status occupationally than black men regardless of how they are dressed. And, according to this research, when we are primed by alcohol (whether via direct ingestion or merely viewing advertisements for alcohol), we are more likely to see black men as wielding weapons (as opposed to say, wallets, cell phones or car keys).
The researchers show awareness of how insidious and dangerous this ‘priming’ is:
“The findings reported here suggest that people could be more likely to act upon their prejudices simply for having entered a bar, watched an alcohol advertisement, or passed a relevant billboard on the highway.”
It’s like the recent research on how religious primes can increase our racial prejudices without even trying. We like to believe we are rational beings who make choices as to how we act and make decisions. Here are, not one but two studies that would beg to differ. We need to take both of them into consideration, so that jurors have conscious awareness of potential biases in their decision-making processes.
Stepanova, E., Bartholow, B., Saults, J., & Friedman, R. (2012). Alcohol-related cues promote automatic racial bias Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.006