Consumption of alcohol improves recall of earlier learning, finds study


A new study by the University of Exeter in the UK has found that consuming alcohol could improve memory for information learned before the drinking episode began.

To carry out the study, 88 social drinkers were given a word-learning task and the participants were divided in two groups at random. One group was told to drink as much as they liked and the other group was told not to drink at all.

The next day, it was found that those who had consumed alcohol remembered more of what they had learned.

Participants were also given another task, which involved looking at images on a screen. This task was completed after the drinkers had consumed alcohol. The results indicated that there was no significant difference in memory performance after drinking.

According to the researchers, the limited positive effect should be considered alongside the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption on memory and mental and physical health.

"Although the effect has been seen under laboratory conditions before, this study tests it in a natural setting."

University of Exeter professor Celia Morgan said: “Our research not only showed that those who drank alcohol did better when repeating the word-learning task, but that this effect was stronger among those who drank more.”

“The causes of this effect are not fully understood, but the leading explanation is that alcohol blocks the learning of new information and therefore the brain has more resources available to lay down other recently learned information into long-term memory.

“The theory is that the hippocampus, the brain area really important in memory, switches to ‘consolidating’ memories, transferring from short into longer-term memory.”

Although the effect has been seen under laboratory conditions before, this study tests it in a natural setting, where people consumed alcohol in their homes.

The participants were 31 males and 57 females, who were between the age of 18-53.

The study is entitled 'Improved memory for information learnt before alcohol use in social drinkers tested in a naturalistic setting'.