A new study by the University of Exeter shows that alcohol can have a positive effect on your memory. In fact, information learned prior to a drinking episode is more easily recalled after consuming alcohol. The study findings were published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.
During the study, 88 social drinkers, 31 men and 57 women between the ages of 18 and 53, were given two different tasks, one involved word learning and the other involved images on a screen. The participants were separated randomly into two groups. One group was told not to drink at all while the other group was told to drink as much as they wanted.
The following day, the participants repeated the tasks. Those who had consumed alcohol were able to recall more of the information they had learned during the word-learning task. The study clearly showed that people who consumed alcohol did better when they repeated the word-learning task. However, no significant difference in memory was noted in relation to the images task after consuming alcohol.
According to Professor Celia Morgan with the University of Exeter, the effect on the word-learning task was stronger for those who drank more. However, researchers stress that this limited positive effect of consuming alcohol that must be weighed against the negative effects on an individual’s memory as well as physical and mental state when he or she drinks to excess.
Morgan said the causes of the effect shown during the study are not completely understood; however, the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks an individual’s ability to learn new information, which causes the brain to use more of its available resources to store recently learned information to long-term memory.
The theory behind this explanation lies with the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important to the memory process. Researchers believe the hippocampus switches into the mode of consolidating memories and transfers them from short-term to long-term memories.
While the effect shown in this study has been noted using laboratory conditions in the past, this is the first time the effect was shown in participants who consumed alcohol in their natural settings, within the privacy of their own homes.
By Trixie Dillwood