It is well known that alcohol intoxication contributes to aggressive behaviors. However, the effects of alcohol on aggression can vary, depending on the person and situation.
One characteristic that can influence whether a person engages in aggressive behaviors when intoxicated is “trait anger”. Although most people may experience short-lasting outbursts of anger (“state anger”) due to real or imagined actions or speech of another person in a social situation, people who have a high level of trait anger experience these outbursts more intensely, more often, and for a longer duration than people with low levels of trait anger.
One situational factor that can influence whether a person engages in aggressive behaviors is the extent to which the interacting partner engages in cold and argumentative behavior toward the person. The current study used a model (Alcohol Myopia Model) to examine the influence of alcohol and trait and state anger on the relation between seeing the interacting partner as being cold and argumentative (called “perceived quarrelsomeness” by the authors) and a person’s own cold and argumentative behavior (called “quarrelsome behavior”) in social interactions.
Researchers asked 60 adult participants (31 men, 29 women) – recruited through newspaper advertisements – to record their daily social interactions for 20 days. Specifically, for each interaction, participants reported their perception of their interacting partner’s quarrelsome behavior, their own anger and quarrelsome behavior, and the number of alcoholic drinks consumed up to three hours prior to the event.
Drinking increased the impact of perceived quarrelsomeness on quarrelsome behavior among individuals with high trait anger, compared to individuals with lower trait anger. Feeling angry when perceiving quarrelsomeness was in part responsible for greater quarrelsome behavior. However, when no alcohol was consumed, there was no such difference in quarrelsome responding to perceived quarrelsomeness between individuals with low and high levels of trait anger.
The authors speculated that the experience of intense anger could reduce the ability of high trait-anger individuals to inhibit their aggressive behaviors when under the influence of alcohol.
The authors also suggested that future studies collect information on the type of drink consumed, blood alcohol concentration, the time when drinking began and the total duration of the drinking period, and participants’ weight, using objective rather than self-reported information to measure alcohol consumption.