Is blaming it on the alcohol ever legitimate? Nearly half of all violent crimes in the United States are committed under the influence of alcohol — and a group of researchers from the School of Psychology at Australia’s University of New South Wales might have discovered why: It all comes down to alcohol’s effect on the brain. Certain neurological responses were dulled by the booze, making it less likely for study participants to realize that violence is a bad idea.
The team enlisted 50 healthy young men and used MRI scans to measure their blood flow. The men were given two drinks — one group’s drinks contained vodka while the others’ was a nonalcoholic placebo.
After the drinks had been consumed, the men were hooked up to an MRI scanner. They were asked to perform a task that would evaluate how aggressive their responses were to being provoked.
For the sober group, being provoked did not result in a significant change in response. Aggression levels were normal, and it wasn’t especially difficult for these men to calm down.
For the group that had been drinking, however, the brain’s responses were much different. When the researchers observed an aggressive reaction, the prefrontal cortex regions of the intoxicated group’s brains showed significantly dulled activity. The reward center of the brain was also less active. Memory centers of the brain, on the other hand, showed heightened levels of activity.
“These regions may support different behaviors,” explained lead study author Thomas Denson, “such as peace versus aggression, depending on whether a person is sober or intoxicated.”
Denson explains that further research is needed and that any breakthroughs in controlling these mechanisms could “substantially reduce alcohol-related harm.”
The whole “alcohol can make you violent” thing might not be a myth after all!