Western University researchers have confirmed drinking impairs decision-making.
In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, Brain and Mind Institute (BMI) scientists claim that when blood alcohol approaches the legal limit for driving, the human ability to override snap or impulse decisions is reduced.
Described as human “autopilot,” it’s about our natural responses to rapidly evolving situations.
Researchers had participants in the study point toward suddenly appearing visual targets first when sober and again drunk.
“The target predominantly remained stationary but sometimes it abruptly jumped to a new location,” according to a press release. “Previous studies have shown that people quickly and accurately self-correct for such target jumps and that an autopilot-type mechanism in the brain underlies this rapid and automatic response.”
When they were asked to stop moving when the target jumped, the drunks weren’t able to do so, implying that drinking alcohol had impaired their ability to switch off their autopilot.
“This study shows that although behaviour that's well practiced or automatic is pretty robust to the effects of moderate amounts of alcohol, things really fall apart when you have to override these responses and do something different,” lead author Kevin Johnston said.
That’s a big deal for drivers, he said, who have to adjust speed, steer and brake quickly due to road conditions or suddenly appearing obstacles.
Johnston teamed with Mel Goodale, Director of Western's Brain and Mind Institute, and Brian Timney, Dean of Western's Faculty of Social Sciences, to conduct the study, which was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Alcoholic Beverages Medical Research Foundation (ABMRF).
The paper, titled "Acute Alcohol Consumption Impairs Controlled but Not Automatic Processes in a Psychophysical Pointing Paradigm," can be further explored at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0068682.