On-Screen Alcohol Urges People To Grab A Bottle

March 26, 2009

For the first time ever, the experts are showing that there is a strong connection between watching movies and advertisements with lots of drinking scenes and an immediate desire in young people to reach for the bottle of beer or wine.

A study by the scientists from the Netherlands and Canada found that male students who watched films and ads that prominently featured alcohol, were twice more likely to drink alcohol beverages, compared to those who watched "dry" movies and TV commercials. According to principal investigator, Rutger Engels, a professor of developmental psychopathology at Radboud University, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, most people have no idea that if they are exposed to alcohol or smoke cues on TV, their behavior instantly is being affected by it.

For the research, the team of experts invited 80 male university students, with the ages between 18 and 29, and randomly assigned them to one out of four groups, which watched a 1-hour movie clip and commercials that included either low exposure, moderate exposure or intense exposure to alcohol messages. All the study participants watched films and advertisements in a comfortable wide-screen home cinema, equipped with a leather couch, easy chairs and a table with an ashtray, as well as potato chips and nuts. The room was set up in a laboratory, with an easy access to a fridge that contained alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine, cola, and orange soda. The volunteers were offered to drink whatever they liked and as much as they wanted.

The first group of 20 students was offered to watch the movie "American Pie 2," in which alcoholic drinks were displayed 23 times, with the main characters consuming beverages 18 times. A commercial break included ads that were promoting alcohol. The second group of 20 students was also offered to view "American Pie 2" film, but a commercial break did not include any alcohol advertisements.

The third group of study participants watched the film "40 Days and 40 Nights," in which alcohol was consumed 3 times and alcoholic drinks appeared on the screen 15 times. The commercial break included booze ads. And finally, the last group saw the same movie, but their commercial break had no alcohol advertisements. While the students were watching the movies, they were discreetly filmed in order to monitor how often they reached for a bottle and how much they drank.

When the movie hour was over, the scientists found that volunteer students, who have been watching both the movie and commercials with high-intensity alcohol messages, consumed, on average, almost three 200 ml (6.8 fluid ounce) bottles of alcoholic beverages. In contrast, those who were exposed to the "non-alcohol" movie and neutral ads, drank only 1.5 bottles on average. The maximum amount of bottles being consumed during the experiment was 4, and the minimum amount drunk was none.

The researchers, who published their report online in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, assume that there are two reasons why watching people drinking on the screen causes the immediate desire in the viewers to do the same. Engels said the sight may act as an "alcohol cue" that creates a craving for alcohol in individuals who already drink. "And if you constantly see people drinking ... on the screen, you get thirsty - and not thirsty in the sense that you want a soda. You want a beer or a glass of wine," he said.

The scientist also said that in many cases people, while watching a commercial that promotes a particular brand of beer, not only are prone to go and buy that very brand next time they are in the store, but are also stimulated to go immediately to the refrigerator in order to grab that beer. People might also are moved with an urge to get a beverage because humans tend to imitate what other people around them are doing, said Engels.

The scientist said his team has started to work on another set of studies in order to investigate if the same phenomenon is true for both men and women. The researchers also plan to test the effects of smoking as portrayed in the movies and on TV.

Tags: Addictions

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