The effects of alcohol and self-awareness on self-aggressive behavior

Tiffany Paige Bradley

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.