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You Didn't Realize She Was Angry? Alcohol's Effects on Perceiving Social Cues

Anger and alcohol

When was the last time you did not realize someone was giving you hints as to their emotions but you were too intoxicated from the excessive consumption of alcohol to notice? You can probably name a few instances, at the least.


Well, you’re not alone. It’s no secret that alcohol affects how you see things and how those cues are processed in the brain, but a recent study shows that your “drinking just to get drunk” problem means it becomes excruciatingly difficult to read social cues properly.

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Scientifically speaking, the University of Illinois at Chicago has found that alcohol intoxication reduces communication between the two hemispheres, interfering with the proper interpretation and response to social cues. The effects center on the amygdala, which is the area of the brain responsible for social and facial perceptions. The pre-frontal cortex is also involved, affecting one’s abilities to cognitively receive and process information before responding in an appropriate manner. Furthermore, amygdala reactions to threats were subdued.

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What does this mean in simple terms?
When you drink alcohol, you are decreasing your brains ability to understand what is occurring around it, especially when it comes to emotional displays, in effect disrupting one’s ability to respond in a manner that would befit the situation. Adding to this, should one be faced with a dangerous situation, it would take much longer to realize and act appropriately, including running for your life or fighting back to protect yourself.

How did they come to this conclusion?
A group of 12 heavy social drinkers were shown pictures of different emotions, including happy, angry, fearful, or neutral. What they found was that the lack of connection between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex leads to aggression, social disinhibition and withdrawal.

In the end, it’s probably best to keep in mind that drinking more than 5 cups per day for men and 4 cups for women is not recommended. It’s preferable to keep far below that number to ensure that both hemispheres of your brain are functioning properly and communicating what they must.

Reference: UIC