It sounds extremely improbable, after all when do ‘bad things’ ever have beneficial effects. Indeed even if you consider the typical post drunken experiences – a vivid and accurate recollection of events is rarely high up on the list. Yet the latest of those strange trivia type surveys that Universities seem to enjoy suggest that perhaps it’s the case that a few drinks makes you remember more.
The study has come from the University of Essex and the results suggest that drinking does help the human memory. It concluded that people who drink alcohol after studying specific information are more likely to remember what they have learnt. The study asked 88 people to try and complete a task involving learning words. They were then split into two groups, one being asked to drink as much alcohol as they wished – just over four units was the average. The other group were given no alcohol at all.
The next day, the tasks were repeated and it was found that those who had drunk alcohol performed much better than those who hadn’t. Furthermore those participants who had indulged in a few drinks were actually able to remember more of the lessons they learnt.
Is this a positive effect of drinking alcohol? Does this break some of the stereotypes that alcohol has negative effects on memory. Of course it’s difficult to say in such a small survey yet it has surprised the researchers. Obviously alcohol is rightly associated with all sorts of damage to physical and mental health but perhaps in moderate levels there are some benefits too.
It’s only right to look at the results objectively and there was no doubt the positive correlation present. Those who drank alcohol after the task definitely performed better and remembered more of the information than those who didn’t.
So did the researchers have any explanation for this unexpected benefit? Well not really, but one theory suggest that alcohol actually blocks the learning of information into short term memory. This then causes the brain to access other resources to try and complete the task including laying down information into their long term memory instead. This might explain why people who drink too much forget short term events due to over-consumption of alcohol.
There’s no doubt that alcohol has very real impacts and effects on the human brain, but these are often difficult to distinguish. Indeed one study has been looking at the powerful release of endorphins into the brain when alcohol has been consumed. Indeed many believe this may be the cause of alcoholism and medical tests have suggested a possible cure too. A drug called Selincro which you can read about here, is actually designed to block those endorphins being released when alcohol is consumed.
It is not known if this drug for example would have a different effect on the Exeter study. Perhaps these endorphins have an affect on the brain’s function and capacity for learning too. In the study, the test was actually repeated with images instead of words and with the task being performed after drinking alcohol. There was no discernable difference in the results in this case.