Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 137–142
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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w . e l s e v i e r . c o m / l o c a t e / j e s p
A message in a bottle: Extrapharmacological effects of alcohol on aggression
Laurent Bègue a,*, Baptiste Subra b, Philippe Arvers c, Dominique Muller b,
Véronique Bricout d, Michel Zorman e
a University of Grenoble and University Institute of France, Psychology Department, BP 47, 1251 Avenue Centrale, 38040 Grenoble, France
b Department of Psychology, University of Grenoble, Grenoble, France
c Research Center of Health Service of Army, Human Factors Department, Grenoble, France
d University of Grenoble Joseph Fourier, Laboratory HP2, Grenoble, France
e Cogni-Science Laboratory, Grenoble, France
a r t i c l e
i n f o
a b s t r a c t
The physiological and expectancy effects of alcohol consumption on the aggressive behavior of 116 gen-
Received 24 April 2008
eral-population males aged 18–45 years were analyzed separately in a naturalistic ?eld experiment using
Revised 11 June 2008
a 3 Â 3 Balanced Placebo Design (BPD). Participants were given a non-alcoholic drink, a drink targeting a
Available online 19 August 2008
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .05%, or a drink targeting a BAC of .1%. Within these three groups,
three expectancy levels were induced regarding the quantity of alcohol ingested. Aggressive behavior was
measured as retaliation against an aggressive confederate, in the form of amounts of hot sauce and salt
administered in a taste test. Expectancies signi?cantly increased aggressive behavior, whereas actual
quantity of alcohol ingested was unrelated to aggression. Aggressive dispositions also predicted aggres-
Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
ysis is based (Johnson & Eagly, 2000). We believe that the Exum
(2006) synthesis may not provide a de?nitive answer concerning
Alcohol is the substance most frequently cited for aggressive
the issue of the extrapharmacological effects of alcohol because it
and violent behavior (Boles & Miotto, 2003; Gmel & Rehm, 2003;
is mainly based on studies that may not have successfully imple-
Parker & Rebhun, 1995; Pernanen, 1991), with an average of 40–
mented the methodology of the balanced placebo design (BPD)
50% of violent crimes involving a person who has consumed alco-
necessary to disentangle pharmacological and expectancy effects
hol (Murdoch, Pihl, & Ross, 1990; see also Bègue & Subra, 2008).
(Hull & Bond, 1986).
Pharmacologically-based models purport that aggression following
Another reason that should prevent a de?nitive conclusion on
the consumption of alcohol is due to the pharmacological proper-
the inexistent contribution of extrapharmacological factors of alco-
ties of alcohol itself, whereas expectancy models have proposed
hol on human aggression lies in research on automatic activation of
that the behavior following the ingestion of alcohol is a function
aggression (Todorov & Bargh, 2002). In a recent study, Bartholow
of the drinker’s implicit or explicit beliefs regarding the effects of
and Heinz (2006) showed that participants made faster lexical deci-
alcohol. For example, according the attributional perspective, since
sions concerning aggression-related words following alcohol-re-
alcohol is believed by layperson to facilitate aggression, transgress-
lated primes compared with neutral primes. In a subsequent
ing individuals should use intoxication to decrease negative reac-
experiment, individuals who were ?rst exposed to alcohol adver-
tions of others by the use of self-serving explanations aimed at
tisements then rated the behavior of a target person as more hostile
reducing personal responsibility (Snyder, Higgins, & Stucky, 1983).
than participants who initially viewed control advertisements.
In a recent synthesis, Exum (2006) concluded that ‘‘expectancy
These results suggest that the mere expectancies of alcohol con-
has a negligible effect on aggression” (p.141). This conclusion clo-
sumption may activate aggressive thoughts and behavior (see Fried-
sely re?ects the statistical trends reported in published studies and
man, Mc Carthy, Bartholow, and Hicks, 2007). In the following
meta-analyses (e.g., Bushman, 1997; Bushman & Cooper, 1990).
section, we suggest that because of the well known practical dif?-
However, while quantitative meta-analysis represents the best
culty linked to experimental research on intoxicated aggression,
way of evaluating existing knowledge on a topic, its results also
most studies may have led to a systematic underestimation of alco-
primarily depend on the quality of the studies on which meta-anal-
hol expectancy effects. Consequently, we will present a new BPD
experiment carried out in a realistic setting and involving an alter-
native measure of aggression to differentiate the pharmacological
* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: Laurent.Begue@upmf-grenoble.fr (L. Bègue).
and extrapharmacological effects of alcohol on aggressive behavior.
0022-1031/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
L. Bègue et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 137–142
The balanced placebo methodology
doses of salt in front of the participant. The quantity of Tabasco and
salt administered were aggregated (Cronbach’s alpha = .53).
The classic balanced placebo design (BPD) is a 2 Â 2 factorial de-
sign crossing non-alcohol/alcohol received and non-alcohol/alco-
hol expected. The use of a BPD thus relies on a manipulation of
Participants gave their evaluation of the study on ?ve Likert-
the taste and smell of beverages such that participants cannot reli-
type items such as ‘‘I consider that the incomplete and inaccurate
ably distinguish alcoholic from non-alcoholic beverages on the ba-
quality of the information that has been conveyed to me at the mo-
sis of sensory cues (Marlatt, Demming, & Reid, 1973; Mendelson,
ment of the inclusion in the study was completely justi?ed” (Cron-
McGuire, & Mello, 1984), while non-alcoholic beverages may deli-
bach’s alpha = .58).
ver the sensory cues of alcoholic beverages (Glautier, Taylor, &
Remington, 1992). Unfortunately, suspicion in the placebo condi-
tion and especially in the anti-placebo condition (when alcohol is
ingested but is not expected) is often rampant, with rates of suspi-
Screening procedure and ?nal sample
cion reaching 60% or even 90% in some studies based on BPD (Brad-
The participants were recruited through a two-step selection
lyn, Strickler, & Maxwell, 1981; Keane, Lisman, & Kreutzer, 1980;
process. An advertisement was published eight times in the main
Lyvers & Maltzman, 1991; Martin & Sayette, 1993). Moreover,
regional newspaper and 35,000 ?yers were disseminated. The
manipulation checks may themselves induce experimental de-
advertisement indicated that a session was being organized by
mand (Collins & Searles, 1988; Knight, Barbaree, & Boland, 1986;
Stat-Food in order to taste energy food with 18–45-years-old males
Knight, Barbaree, & Boland, 1988).
and that the length of the tasting session varied from 2 to 7 hours.
In order to avoid a minimization of the extrapharmacological
Each hour was paid 14 euros (approximately 19 USD). A prelimin-
effects of alcohol owing to participants’ suspicion, we paid atten-
ary phone interview lasting about 30 minutes was performed with
tion to three kinds of cues potentially leading to participants’ sus-
358 interested participants, supposedly aimed to ‘‘identify partici-
picion and unreliable results: internal cues (interoceptive events
pants’ eating habits and consumption pro?le”. It included various
attributed to the effects of alcohol), gustative cues (taste of alcohol)
?ller questions about alimentary habits and personality items in
and instructional cues (experimental instructions and manipula-
order to deemphasize target questions concerning physical aggres-
tions, cover story) to judgments of intoxication (see below). We
sion as well as alcohol consumption (see below). Drinkers at risk
predicted two additive effects of alcohol ingested and alcohol ex-
were identi?ed by the CAGE (Beresford, Blow, Hill, Singer, & Lucey,
pected. Therefore, we expected a linear increase in aggression as
1990) and eliminated. In order to collect participants’ agreement to
a function of the expectancies, and a linear increase in aggression
consume alcohol indirectly, they were informed that so as to limit
as a function of the quantity of alcohol ingested. We also antici-
biases in their taste evaluations, they would not know in advance
pated that aggressive dispositions would increase aggressive
exactly what they would have to taste. We therefore proceeded
to ask them whether they were willing to consume certain foods,
supposedly to ‘‘avoid any risk of allergic reactions”. A list of 30 food
components was named on the phone. Participants who did not
wish to consume a food listed were asked to indicate their dis-
agreement. One question tapped alcohol and participants who dis-
agreed with the possibility of consuming alcohol were excluded
from the sample. One hundred eighty-eight participants were ex-
The participants were 117 males between the ages of 18 and 44
cluded because of their inadequacy in terms of the expected pro?le
(M = 29.31, SD = 6.6) from the mid-size city of Grenoble (pop.
for sociodemographic motives, 14 for medical reasons not includ-
340,000) and the surrounding communities with various occupa-
ing alcohol problems, 11 for alcohol problems, 23 for refusal of
tional and educational levels. Females were excluded in order to
alcohol consumption, 7 for technical reasons and 10 for miscella-
prevent risks related to potential pregnancy.
neous reasons. Among the scheduled participants, 63 did not show
up without forewarning and 25 cancelled. Among the participants
who came, 17 were included in a pretesting session –not reported
here- and were not included in the ?nal sample. Among the
remaining participants, 3 were excluded for medical reasons that
During a preliminary phone interview, participants completed
were not detected previously, 3 because of their inadequacy to
the Physical Aggression Subscale of the Buss–Perry Aggression
the expected sociodemographic pro?le, 6 for misunderstanding
Questionnaire (BPAQ, Buss & Perry, 1992). The scale Cronbach’s al-
instructions unrelated to the beverage composition, 4 because of
pha was .60.
the refusal of drinking during the tasting session, 1 for having vom-
ited, and 4 for procedure error. Finally, 11 were excluded because
Measure of aggressive behavior
of suspicion concerning the role of the confederate playing the role
Our aggression measure consisted of an adaptation of the Hot
of the provocator.
Sauce Paradigm (HSP, Lieberman, Solomon, & Greenberg, 1999).
The participants were given a large quantity of small doses of Ta-
basco in plastic capsules. We also gave them the same quantity
We primarily handled the issue of internal cues indirectly by
of salt doses so as to provide them with a more covert way of
trying to divert participants’ attention from bodily sensations
aggressing (Ritter & Eslea, 2005). Information regarding the corre-
indicative of beverage content. By using distracter tasks and a loud
spondence between amount of salt and of hot sauce doses and
musical background, we expected to decrease the salience of the
their gustative effects were given from 1 to 6 (examples: 1 salt do-
interoceptive cues and facilitate a misattribution process (Rohse-
se = salted; 6 salt doses and more = excessive burning sensation; 1
now & Marlatt, 1981). The issue of gustative cues was handled
Tabasco dose = spicy; 6 Tabasco doses = risks of temporary extinction
by a major change compared to previous studies. In the three
of the sense of taste, risks of vomiting). Although the correspon-
anti-placebo groups, we added that in fact, there was no alcohol,
dences stopped at 6, the possibility of putting more salt or Tabasco
but that this new beverage was currently under development
was fully possible, because there were 50 doses of Tabasco and 80
phase and targeted persons who appreciated the taste of alcohol
L. Bègue et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 137–142
depended on the number of foodstuff to be tasted. Participants were
asked to abstain from food and drink (except water) for a period of
3 h prior to their scheduled appointment (Millar, Hammersley, &
Finnigan, 1992). They were greeted at a front desk by a 25-year-
old hostess dressed in a professional way and wearing a label of
Stat-Food drawn by a design graphic artist. Advertising posters of
Stat-Food made by professionals were disposed on the walls. After
an identity check, a physician veri?ed that the state of health of
the participant enabled his inclusion and measured participant body
size and weight. The participant was then escorted into a waiting
Fig. 1. The 3
room, where he was led to exchange a few words with a confederate
Â 3 BPD design.
for about 5 min. Then the hostess escorted him to the tasting room,
where he was received by another hostess. A second confederate,
but wished to avoid drinking alcohol. Therefore, the beverage was
playing the role of a provoking and offensive participant, was already
supposed to have the taste of alcohol without containing any drop
seated in the room, apparently ready to start the tasting, and was
of alcohol. In the three placebo groups, we simply told the partic-
made to give his turn to the participant by the hostess. He asked
ipants that the beverage contained a speci?ed quantity of alcohol.
with an irritated voice, ‘‘What? Will I still have to hang around?”
Lastly, in the three control groups, the participants were told the
As he left, the confederate looked at the participant with extreme
exact quantity of alcohol that had been poured in their glasses.
dislike and uttered a swear word indicating aggressive discontent
Other more usual ways of masking gustative cues were also carried
(in French ‘‘putain”). Then, the participant signed a form committing
out besides masking substance in the beverage (low temperature
him to consume the entire food sample that was to be presented to
of the drink, and alcohol sprayed onto the sides and the bottom
him. Participants were informed that if food samples were not con-
of the glass in the placebo conditions). Regarding instructional
sumed entirely, the promised amount of money would be reduced
cues, we improved the global credibility of the experimental set-
and they would lose 15 euros (approximatively 20 USD) out of their
ting and avoiding any reference to a psychopharmacological study
expected remuneration. Then, the participant was seated in front of a
on alcohol. We therefore designed a bogus food-tasting company
table, and told to wait for the ?rst tasting product.
called Stat-Food, allegedly investigating people’s preferences for
energy food, to recruit the participants from the general
A third female hostess came in and asked him to begin the ?rst
Following the eligibility phase, the participants involved in a so-
stage of the tasting session. In front of him she put three cold iso-
called tasting session were randomly assigned to one of the nine
volemic glasses each containing a cocktail with grapefruit and
experimental conditions—crossing three levels of alcohol ingested
grenadine cordial, mint, and lemon concentrate. One-third of the
(none, medium, high) with three levels of alcohol expected (none,
participants were given a non-alcoholic cocktail, another third a
medium, high; see Fig. 1)—and then aggressively provoked by a
moderately alcoholic cocktail (containing 0.95 OZ of pure alcohol
confederate who pretended to be a tasting volunteer. Two impor-
to target a peak BAC of 0.05%), and the last third a strongly alco-
tant situational factors increasing intoxicated aggression were held
holic cocktail (containing 2.01 OZ of pure alcohol to target a peak
constant: provocation (Ito, Miller, & Pollock, 1994; Lipsey, Wilson,
BAC of 0.1%). The dose was not adjusted, except when the partici-
Cohen, & Derzon, 1997) and social pressure to vengeance (Taylor &
pant’s weight was more than 20 kg under or over the median
Sears, 1988; Tedeschi & Felson, 1994). We studied participants’
weight (75 kg). Within each of these three groups of participants,
aggressive reaction by measuring the quantity of aversive sub-
three levels of expectancy were introduced. Some participants
stance (salt and hot sauce) they put in the food that the person
were told that the cocktails tasted of alcohol but did not contain
who had provoked them earlier would eat later, (Lieberman
any drop of alcohol. Others were told that the cocktails contained
et al., 1999). Important precautions in the manipulation checks
moderate amounts of alcohol, the equivalent of two to three
and the debrie?ng phase were also taken in order to avoid exper-
glasses of vodka (an example was shown). Finally, other partici-
imental demand. It was therefore not the same experimenter who
pants were told that the cocktails were highly alcoholic, roughly
conducted both the study and the manipulation checks concerning
?ve to six glasses of vodka. There were therefore 9 experimental
the content of the served beverage. The experimenter in charge of
groups. Immediately prior to serving the beverage, the rims of
the debrie?ng pretended not to know what was in the participants’
the glasses were sprayed with alcohol in the placebo conditions.
glasses in order to avoid any experimental demand associated to
Ten minutes were allotted for beverage consumption, which was
the potential fear of contradicting the experimenter (Knight
followed by a 20 min absorption period during which participants
et al., 1986). Its function was supposedly to ask questions and have
performed various ?ller tasks. In the tasting room where the bulk
a feedback about the session in order to improve the quality of the
of the experiment was carried out, the experimenters and the con-
future tasting sessions.
federate were not aware of the quantity of alcohol contained in the
glasses. This double-blind procedure was employed because exper-
imenter knowledge of drink content is related to increased intoxi-
The experiment was run daily except on Sundays from 9 AM to
cated aggression (Ito, Miller, & Pollock, 1994).
8 PM for two months, at a community health center. Individuals
eligible were scheduled for an appointment at a ?ctitious food-
Provocation and incitation to revenge
tasting ?rm called Stat-Food.1 The participants who were assigned
Twenty minutes later, while the participant was ?nishing ?ller
to a non-alcohol condition were previously informed by phone that
questionnaires, the offensive confederate came back into the tast-
they would have to stay 2 h, whereas we asked the participants in
ing room. The female hostess then loudly told the confederate—in
the moderate and high alcohol condition to stay, respectively, 3
order to make the participant hear the content of her speech—that
and 7 h. We told participants that the length of the tasting session
he had to taste 80 g of mashed potatoes after seasoning them with
salt and hot sauce presented in small doses, and that he would
then have to season the dish of the participant, who was still in
1 Note 1: Eating the spicy mash was unrelated to aggression.
the process of ?lling out a questionnaire. Once he had ?nished,
L. Bègue et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 137–142
5 min later, the offensive confederate turned to leave the room; as
he passed behind the participant, he violently kicked one of the
legs of the chair the participant was sitting in, and yelled, ‘‘Just
wait ‘til you taste your mash, it’ll blow your head off !”. He then
loudly slammed the door and left the room.
Four participants in placebo conditions and two participants in
Two minutes later, the participant was then invited to sit at
anti-placebo conditions suspected a discrepancy between what
another table in the same room for the tasting of the mashed
they were told concerning their beverage and what they were
potatoes. In order to season properly his own mash properly,
actually given. We therefore excluded them from the sample.
the participant was asked to read a correspondence scale that
was placed in front of him. It indicated the following information:
‘‘Gustative scale. These correspondences are based on several
hundred previous observations. They may help you in the season-
Two outliers were detected in the raw data; however, a log
ing of your dish. You can use the doses in front of you as you
transformation brought the participants back into the distribution.
wish”. A large screen was put in front of the table so that nobody
All analysis of the behavioral measures of aggression was therefore
could see the participant while he sat at the table. Two plates
on log-transformed data. In order to investigate the independent
containing doses of salt and hot sauce were presented to him.
effects of absorbed alcohol and expectancy on aggression (i.e.,
He was asked to consume 80 g of mashed potatoes and his de-
amount of hot sauce and salt put on the mashed potatoes that
sired amount of salt and hot sauce. Then he had to consume
was to be consumed by the hostile confederate), we ran a regres-
the excessively spiced and salted mashed potato dish that the
sion analysis with these two principal variables and two covariates.
confederate had prepared for him. He ?nally had to season the
Given that the amount of alcohol expected to be absorbed had
confederate’s dish. The participant was made to believe that he
three levels, we computed two orthogonal contrasts, the ?rst test-
would not meet the provocator again. At that moment, the ?rst
ing the predicted linear increase in aggression as a function of
confederate whom the participant had met in the waiting room
expectancy, and the second testing a quadratic trend. The level of
after his arrival, and who had entered the room several minutes
alcohol actually consumed, which was initially a discrete predictor,
ago in order to carry out a tasting, and had visibly witnessed
was entered in continuous form. This transformation from a dis-
the whole scene, incited him to take revenge. He said: ‘‘You
crete into a continuous predictor took into account the variability
saw how he loaded your mash with hot sauce; the food’s gone
of the participant’s weight. Indeed, for technical reasons linked to
completely red! If I were in your place I would take my revenge”.
the double-blind procedure, it was not possible to adjust the quan-
Next, the participant was left alone in the room for 5 min. While
tity of alcohol at a ?ner level than 20 kg below or above the median
he had the opportunity of putting salt and hot sauce in the puree
weight (75 kg). Post-hoc, we calculated the theoretical BAC for
that was to be eaten by the confederate, no hostess was present
each participant depending on his exact weight (which was mea-
in the room. Between the end of the beverage consumption and
sured by a medical doctor during the short visit) in order to obtain
the moment when participants could express an aggressive re-
a more precise measurement, which therefore became continuous.
sponse, 30 to 40 min had passed.
Note that for the regression analysis this variable has also been
A two-step debrie?ng phase
We also computed interactions between the amount of con-
Participants then left the main room, were offered some food
sumed alcohol and the two contrasts coding the expected level of
and drink and were kept busy with various tasks. After 2 to 6 h,
alcohol. Finally, participants’ weight, and trait aggressiveness were
when their BAC was theoretically near to 0, an experimenter pos-
entered as covariates. This analysis ?rst revealed a trait aggressive-
ing as the person in charge of the food evaluation agency took
ness effect on behavioral aggressiveness, B = 0.05, t(109) = 2.10,
them to another room and asked various questions about the
p < .04. Hence, the higher the level of trait aggressiveness, the more
agency’s hostess and the tasting experience. By that pre-debrie?ng
aggressively participants reacted.
procedure, we expected to hinder the participants’ propensity to
More interestingly, we found a signi?cant linear relationship
answer consistently with what another experimenter had previ-
between the level of alcohol that participants thought they had
ously told them. The experimenter doing the debrie?ng pretended
consumed and their aggressive behavior, the linear contrast being
not to be informed of what they had drunk or eaten and the partic-
signi?cant, B = 0.13, t(109) = 1.99, p < .05, while the quadratic con-
ipants had simply to inform him at the beginning of the interview
trast was not, B = À0.01, t(109) = 0.08, p < .95. Hence, at a mean le-
(see Knight et al., 1986). The pre-debrie?ng was also the opportu-
vel of consumed alcohol and after controlling for the two
nity for the participants to tell the supposed manager of the tasting
covariates, the more participants thought they had drunk, the more
company that an incident occurred. Most of the time, they ex-
pressed anger and said the tasting session was vitiated by this
aggressive altercation, adding that they had had to consume the
spicy mash or that they had lost 15 euros because they had refused
to eat it. When the participants had ?nished the narration of the
incident, the experimenter asked them uncritically if they had also
put salt or hot sauce in the provocators dish, and if that was the
case, how many doses they had added.
When the manipulation veri?cation phase was complete, a
careful postexperimental individual treatment was administered
and each participant was genuinely debriefed. Participants then
?lled out a consent form and gave their evaluation of the study.
All participants agreed that the collected data could be used for
research purposes. We then estimated BAC with a breath alco-
hol testing device (Draeger 5100S). Participants whose BAC
Fig. 2. Adjusted means for the amount of hot sauce and salt as a function of the
was equal to 0.00 were then paid and thanked for their
expected level of consumed alcohol (the quantity of hot sauce and salt were logged
L. Bègue et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 137–142
aggressive they were toward the previously hostile confederate
studies show that peak BAC is attained in 45 to 60 min after the
(see Fig. 2). There was no effect of consumed alcohol, B = 0.01,
end of beverage consumption, and indicate that pharmacological
t(109) = 0.08, p < .94, and no interaction between this variable
effect of alcohol is limited to the upward slope of the blood alcohol
and expectancy about level of consumed alcohol, ps > .64. These re-
curve (Giancola & Zeichner, 1997). In our study, the aggression
sults support the view that, more than alcohol intake, the mere be-
measure was taken on average 37 min after the consumption. It
lief of having consumed alcohol is causally linked to reactive
may be that because of differences in individual metabolism or
drinking history, some of the participants were already in an alco-
The same analysis was carried out after removing the two out-
hol descending limb, which may explain why no alcohol effect was
liers previously detected in the raw data. It turned out that the lin-
observed. Second, this non-effect might be the consequence of the
ear relationship between the expected level of alcohol and the
measure of aggression itself. Whereas the quasi-totality of previ-
aggressive behavior became stronger (going from a .04 value to a
ous studies was based on electric shocks, we relied on the HSP.
.03), whereas the effect of trait aggressiveness became marginally
While this paradigm is considered as a valid way of measuring
physical aggression and correlates with dispositional aggressivity
(as in Lieberman et al., 1999), it is nonetheless the ?rst time that
it is used in a study on intoxicated aggression. Such a measure
might be less sensitive than other measures (e.g., electric shocks)
Assessment of the anti-normative meaning of aggression
to participants’ inebriation. Third, the likelihood of an aggressive
The observed quantity of Tabasco administered to the provoca-
response was maximized due to situational features such as the
tor ranged from 0 to 47 (M = 5.87, SD = 7.44), whereas the quantity
confederate’s highly provocative behavior and strengthened by
that participant indicated they administered during the pre-
the encouragement of retaliation expressed by the witness of the
debrie?ng ranged from 0 to 30 (M = 3.67, SD = 4.43). A paired t-test
provocation (Borden & Taylor, 1973; Taylor & Sears, 1988). Accord-
for dependant sample (on log-transformed data) indicated that the
ing to studies reviewed by Hull and Van Treuren (1986), when the
observed quantity of Tabasco administered was signi?cantly high-
cues to behave in a certain way are very explicit, sober and intox-
er than the quantity indicated by the participants in the fake
icated individuals tend to act similarly (see also Steele & South-
(M = 0.59,
SD = 0.40
M = 0.49,
SD = 0.37,
wick, 1985). This might explain the absence of difference in
t(112) = 6.27, p < .001). A similar discrepancy was observed regard-
aggression between sober and intoxicated participants in our
ing salt. The observed quantity of salt administered to the provoca-
tor ranged from 0 to 78 (M = 4.50, SD = 9.28), whereas the quantity
The observed expectancy effect is consistent with recent studies
indicated by the participants ranged from 0 to 30 (M = 2.81,
on automatic activation of aggressive thoughts following an alco-
SD = 3.66). A paired t-test for dependant sample (on log trans-
hol priming (Bartholow & Heinz, 2006) as well as with earlier
formed data) indicated that the observed quantity of salt adminis-
investigations relying on a BPD methodology (Marlatt et al.,
tered was signi?cantly higher than the quantity indicated by the
1973; Rohsenow & Bachorowski, 1984). At a methodological level,
participants in the fake debrie?ng (M = 0.53, SD = 0.34 vs 0.45,
our results suggest that when adequate precautions are taken, an
SD = 0.29, t(107) = 4.59, p < .001).
expectancy effect of alcohol on aggression can be found. This is
consistent with the situation-speci?city hypothesis (Wall, Hinson,
Non-experimental correlates of aggression
& McKee, 2001; Wall, McKee, & Hinson, 2000).
Aggressive behavior was positively related to participants body
Experimental studies on aggression are sometimes disparaged
height (r = .23, p < .01), and negatively correlated with participants
because of possible limitations regarding their validity (see Ander-
age (r = À.26; p < .005). The amount of time spent by the partici-
son & Bushman, 1997; Anderson, Lindsay, & Bushman, 1999; for an
pant in the experiment (which was linked to the participant’s ex-
invalidation of the critics). One may then wonder what the degree
pected remuneration after the tasting session) was unrelated to
of generalization of our results is. On the one hand, internal and
aggression (r = .00, ns). Eating the spicy mash was unrelated to
external validity seemed quite satisfactory because of the concom-
itant use of an experimental design, the sampling of a general pop-
ulation, and the use of a dependant variable (HSP) that was
Evaluation of the experiment
probably more familiar to the participants than many other current
After the ?nal debrie?ng, the participants’ evaluations of the
available operationalizations in intoxicated aggression research
experiment were unanimously positive and unrelated to the quan-
(see Giancola & Chermack, 1998; Tedeschi & Quigley, 1996; Tede-
tity of alcohol ingested. Interestingly, the participants who ate the
schi & Quigley, 2000). In addition, our 3 Â 3 experimental design
very spicy mash (and therefore later realized that they might have
was more comprehensive than previous studies, offering the possi-
avoided it without losing any money) evaluated the experiment
bility of observing the potential occurrence of non-linear effects of
more positively than those who refused it, (M = 4.74, SD = 0.38,
our manipulated factors. Furthermore, as was demonstrated by the
vs 4.47, SD = 0.59, t(83.79) = 2.78, p < .007), which is consistent
discrepancy between the observed aggression and the participant’s
with a self-af?rmation (Steele, 1988) or self-consistency (Aronson
self-reported aggression in the pre-debrie?ng session, the aggres-
& Carlsmith, 1962) interpretation.1
sive behavior was clearly perceived as an undesirable response
which was not sanctioned by a legitimate third party authority
(Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1993).
In accordance with most social psychologists (e.g., Anderson &
Bushman, 1997), we believe that the experimental method is the
The most important result of this experiment is that differences
gold standard for hypothesis testing and that the manipulation of
in the level of aggression observed were determined by partici-
social stimuli is possible and relevant for societal issues. In the ?eld
pants’ expectations about the content of the beverage they con-
of intoxicated aggression, as in any other domain, the validity of
sumed. Our study has also indicated that the quantity of alcohol
experimental demonstration requires that the target variables be
ingested was not related to aggression, which is an unexpected re-
manipulated without the awareness of the participants. To clarify
sult. Three interpretations might be proposed. First, it may be that
the complex relationship between alcohol and aggression, a theo-
at the time they had the opportunity to aggress, some participants
retical inclusion—and a satisfactory technical operationalization—
were already in the decreasing phase of alcoholization. Alcohol
of social-cognitive factors in experimental research is necessary.
L. Bègue et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45 (2009) 137–142
Research should give a real opportunity for extrapharmacological
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- A message in a bottle: extrapharmacological Extrapharmacological effects of alcohol on aggression
- The balanced placebo methodology
- Aggressive dispositions
- Measure of aggressive behavior
- Post-debriefing evaluation
- Screening procedure and final sample
- Experimental procedure
- Pre-experimental phase
- Experimental manipulation
- Provocation and incitation to revenge
- A two-step debriefing phase
- Manipulation checks
- Hypothesis testing
- Ancillary analyses
- Assessment of the anti-normative meaning of aggression
- Non-experimental correlates of aggression
- Evaluation of the experiment