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Alcohol Myopia

Alcohol is a notorious obstacle to self-control. Alcohol is implicated in a large percentage of majority of violent crimes, suicides, automobile fatalities, and sex- ually aggressive incidents between college students. One meta-analysis found that it was implicated in about half of all murders across nine different coun- tries studied recently com- pleted a massive review of the research (basically, a meta-analysis of 32 different meta-analyses!) and found that the evidence is quite clear about this point: Alco- hol consumption is an important risk factor in aggressive behavior.

But how does alcohol increase aggression? As many people who drink alcohol know, alcohol can lower people’s inhibitions, and reducing inhibitions against aggression certainly facilitates aggressive behaviors. Alcohol impairs people’s ability to regulate their emotions, and it also impairs people’s executive functioning—which, as we discussed earlier, involves cognitive pro- cesses that enable people to plan or inhibit actions. Both impaired emotion reg- ulation and executive functioning in turn increase aggression.

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Another way that alcohol can lead to aggression is through what Claude Steele and Robert Josephs (1990) called alcohol myopia. That is, alcohol narrows peo- ple’s focus of attention. Intoxicated people respond to initial, salient information about the situation but often miss later, more subtle indicators. They may there- fore focus on a perceived provocation, such as an insult or threat to one’s status, and fail to see or think about information that would explain away this provocation or to consider the long-term prob- lems of retaliation, such as injury, guilt, or arrest. This narrowed focus can there- fore make aggression much more likely to occur, unless the intoxicated person’s nar- row focus can be distracted toward some- thing safer.

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