Boozing Your Way to Efficient Goal Pursuit

There are many reasons people like alcohol. It makes things seem more positive by making it harder to anticipate negative consequences, and it also causes models playing beach volleyball to instantly appear in your backyard. Anybody who has dared to let their BAC approach .1% could also tell you that alcohol changes the way you think about goals, and a new study suggests that alcohol does this by causing you to focus on a goal’s desirability rather than its feasibility.

We investigated whether consuming alcohol leads people to disproportionally focus on the desirability rather than feasibility of important personal goals. Students named an important personal goal and then either consumed alcohol or a placebo. Thereafter, we asked them to freely think about their goal and to write down their thoughts and images. We content-analyzed students’ elaborations with regard to what extent they focused on the goal’s desirability and on its feasibility. Intoxicated students wrote more about aspects of desirability and less about aspects of feasibility than those who consumed a placebo. The results suggest that this effect is one mechanism by which alcohol intake leads people to feel committed to personal goals despite low feasibility of attaining these goals

What’s interesting is that there are certain situations where this distortion leads people to behave more efficiently. For example, when sober, people often avoid the low-feasibility high-desirability situation of successfully finding a new romantic partner because they focus on the likely (and feasible) cost of a depleted ego and not on the unlikely but highly desirable benefits of a lifetime of romantic happiness. Generally the expected value of these benefits still outweighs the expected costs, but it is only when alcohol creates a focus on desirability that people realize this.

In other words, for people who are bad at cost-benefit analysis because they are too risk-averse, alcohol can occasionally nudge them to make better decisions by shifting the lens through which they view costs and benefits from one that focuses on feasibility to one that focuses on desirability. (Emphasis on occasionally. This probably is not the case when it comes to deciding whether to toilet paper you boss’ house.) On the other hand, for people who do a good job weighing the desirability and feasibility of certain outcomes, alcohol is less likely to be beneficial.

On a broader and more futuristic note, I think the kind of feasibility-desirability tradeoff the study touches on is the type of thing kids will/should be learning in schools 50 years from now. Because kids will be able to learn physics or computer science from free open-source technology, the goal of formal education will be to teach them how to make the right decision about what they should go teach themselves.
Sevincer, A., & Oettingen, G. (2012). Alcohol intake leads people to focus on desirability rather than feasibility Motivation and Emotion DOI: 10.1007/s11031-012-9285-6

5 Responses to Boozing Your Way to Efficient Goal Pursuit

  1. Jake Sherbno says:

    This article is extemely intresting to me. It really shows that whenever alchohol is consumed, the persepction on the whole world changes. It is intresting that the goals of individuals were more explained but not so much in a realistic way. Consuming alchohol really does alter your memory. Like it says in the article whenever someone is intoxicated the want to find “love” is stronger because of the desirable thoughts of being romantic. Most of the time individuals who do consume a lot of alcohol do not remember what the events of the night/day were before. It alters the mind with memory. Showing young adults all the effects of alcohol can help because if they dont learn now, they wont even learn. Showing young adults scary effects of alcohol can trigger memories before they take a sip in the future. It could prevent someone from harming themselves or others.

  2. tommy wilson says:

    I also think that when someone drinks that this desirability effect happens in many other situations other than with money. like with a girl someone who is drunk thinks they can talk better to girls when they are drunk but really they are just not thinking feasability. and in many other situations such as pain and physical abilties.

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  4. Pingback: Boozing Your Way to Your Dreams | AllThingsHuman

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