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Alcohol and Placebo: The Role of Expectations and Social Influence

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Alcohol placebos can affect people’s social behaviors, but cannot account for nonsocial ones. During this experiment, subjects are tested through the misconception that they are drinking alcohol, when it is indeed just plain tonic water. Assefi and Garry analyze the effect of the alcohol placebos on social and nonsocial encounters. Speilman discusses the Misinformation Effect created by Loftus. This effect explains how after exposure to incorrect information, a person can misremember the original occurrence. Speilman expands on the fact of interference, where the information stored in our memory’s, becomes almost hidden. A key term for one type of this is Retroactive interface, where information recently acquired impedes the old information. This corresponds to the study based on influences, or interferences, can impact the ability to remember the original information.


Giving subjects placebo alcohol, informing them that it is said “vodka-tonic” or “plain-tonic water”, can make the subject more gullible towards misleading information and eyewitness memory, which is persuaded by nonsocial and social factors.


One-hundred and forty eight undergraduates participated. Data was only retained from 117 out of 148 subjects.


To investigate the effects of alcohol placebos on the social and nonsocial encounters, subjects were assessed through Balanced Placebo Design. Through this procedure, subjects are told that they are either having alcoholic beverages, or that they’re drinking nonalcoholic ones. What they are told is either true or false. This procedure allows for the separation of the physiological and psychological effects of alcohol. During this experiment, subjects were put through various amounts of tests, testing their memory while being told that they are either drinking alcohol or not. After numerous tests, subjects were asked to rate their confidence on their correct answer choices using a 1 to 5 scale.


The results for this experiment showed that the little suggestion of alcohol consumption had caused the subjects to be more prone to misleading post-event suggestion. Told-alcohol subjects were significantly more confident about their answer choices rather than the told-tonic water.

The pattern for the results goes along with the concept that alcohol placebos do not affect memory per se, however, it influenced the subject’s likelihood to yield to suggestions presented by the person conducting the experiment.


The results of this experiment can relate to daily life due to the fact of drinking and social behaviors. Many occasions where a person is drinking, it is in a social manner with friends, family, and more. This allows for the opportunity to be faced with situations and decisions, that can be easily persuaded to the fact of intoxication. Although it is not a placebo, it mimics a person’s decision making ability while under the influence. Drinking and driving is widely an issue, and it heavily caused to poor decision making while under the influence.

The most important result of this experiment was the idea of alcohol consumption can influence the subject’s likelihood to surrender to suggestions made by the experiments instructor.

Your Evaluation

Allowing for subjects to rate their confidence that each answer was correct is a good way to observe how those who received said vodka-tonic would rate their trust in answers, opposed to those who received plain tonic. Using this method is a good choice because it truly, and accurately measures the subjects’ confidence in choice making in that very second. This allows for no hesitations on whether they were truly confident or not.

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Alcohol and Placebo: The Role of Expectations and Social Influence. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 5, 2021, from
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