Vice Squad
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Much Drink and Lechery

It turns out that the effects of drug taking depend quite a bit on what you think those effects will be. If people think that drinking alcohol will increase their interest in sex, then they will express a greater interest in sex when they think they are drinking alcohol -- –even when, unbeknownst to them, their drink is actually alcohol-free. The effects of drugs depend upon, in the famous trio of Norman Zinberg, "Drug, Set, and Setting." In other words, the effects of a drug depend upon the chemical properties of the drug, the mind set of the person consuming it, and the environment in which it is consumed.

The May, 2005 issue of Addiction contains "Automatic effects of alcohol cues on sexual attraction," an article by Ronald S. Friedman, Denis M. McCarthy, Jens Förster, and Markus Denzler. This paper takes the sexual interest and alcohol story even further. Instead of people mistakenly thinking that they are consuming alcohol, the subjects of the experiment were just shown some alcohol-related words. Further, they were shown the words in brief spurts, so brief that the words could not be consciously read and understood. Of course, a control group -- these were college males, incidentally -- were flashed non-alcohol words. (If I were not a college teacher I would here insert the following old joke: "The subjects of the experiment were college students, but the experimenters are thinking of repeating their study on human subjects.") Then they were asked to rate the attractiveness and the intelligence of young women whose pictures were shown to the subjects. (I suppose people do estimate the intelligence of strangers when shown a photo!?) Anyway, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that the fellows who were flashed the alcohol-related words found the young women to be more attractive, but not more intelligent, than did the control group. (The finding is a bit more complicated than I have let on, but I don't think that I have distorted it too badly.)

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