According to a new study, a moderate dose of alcohol increases a person's mind wandering, while at the same time reducing the likelihood of noticing that one's mind has wandered.
The study offers the first evidence that alcohol disrupts an individual's ability to realize his or her mind has wandered, suggesting impairment of a psychological state called meta-consciousness.
These findings suggest that distinct processes are responsible for causing a thought to occur, as opposed to allowing its presence to be noticed.
Researchers studied a group of men, half of whom had consumed alcohol and half of whom had been given a placebo.
After 30 minutes, the participants began reading a portion of Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' from a computer screen.
The results revealed that while they were reading the text those who had consumed alcohol were mind-wandering without realizing it about 25 percent of the time-more than double that of those who had not consumed alcohol.
However, as far as 'catching themselves' zoning out, those who had been drinking were no more likely to do so than the other group.
Participants in the alcohol group would have had many more opportunities to catch themselves because they zoned out more often-but they did not. They were impaired in their ability to notice their own mind-wandering episodes.
"Researchers have known for a while that alcohol consumption can interfere with our limited-capacity powers of concentration. But this "double-whammy" may explain why alcohol often disrupts efforts to exercise self-control, a process requiring the ability to become aware of one's current state in order to regulate it," said University of Pittsburgh professor of psychology Michael Sayette.
The paper is published in this month's issue of Psychological Science.