Title

The Effects of Alcohol and Self-Awareness on Self-Aggressive Behavior

Date of Award

2004

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Mitchell Berman

Advisor Department

Psychology

Abstract

This study examined, under controlled laboratory conditions, whether increased self-awareness would lead to lower levels of self-aggression in participants who were intoxicated. Non-experimental studies have indicated that alcohol use is associated with self-aggressive behavior across the spectrum of lethality. It has been posited that alcohol interferes with higher-order mental processes so that self-aware states are reduced and self-relevant information is more easily ignored. This lack of encoding of information about the self may then produce a disinhibitory effect on behavior. Accordingly, factors that increase self-awareness may counteract alcohol's interference with the encoding of self-relevant information. For the present study, it was predicted that self-awareness, manipulated by the presence of a mirror and video equipment, would moderate alcohol's effect on self-aggression. That is, we expected to find an alcohol effect on self-aggression in the absence of manipulations to induce self-awareness, but no alcohol effect in the presence of induced self-awareness. For the purposes of this study, two indexes of self-aggressive behavior were used as outcome measures. Self-aggressive behavior was defined as the mean level of shock that the participants selected to receive during the seven self-shock trials on the SAP task. Perhaps more important than mean shock, the number of 20-shocks (the maximum intensity available) that were selected was used as an index of extreme self-aggressive behavior. Results supported that alcohol's effect on extreme self-aggression was indeed moderated by induced self-awareness. Specifically, alcohol seemed to elicit extreme self-aggression in the absence of induced self-awareness, but not when heightened self-awareness was induced. These results were not replicated, however, when examining the effects of alcohol and self-awareness on mean shock setting. While results of the current investigation are interesting, limitations of the study call for further research to fully explore the relationship between self-awareness, alcohol, and self-aggressive behaviors.