Make Mine a Double--and Turn Down That #*^%!! Music

A walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve your type here.” 

No, what I meant was, a guy walks into a bar with a duck on his head. The bartender says, “Can I help you?” The duck says, “yeah, you can get this guy off my butt!” Or maybe, two guys walk into a bar; the third one, not being an idiot, ducks (thank you, funny2).

But seriously, one guy walks into one bar, has a few, and then into another one down the street, and has a few more, faster. What’s the difference between the two bars? If scientists who study drinking behavior are right, it may be the loud music in the second one. That, researchers will report in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (it’s also available at the journal’s online “Early View” page), can make you drink more, in less time.

“Previous research had shown that fast music can cause fast drinking, and that music versus no music can cause a person to spend more time in a bar,” said Nicolas Guéguen, a professor of behavioral sciences at the Université de Bretagne-Sud in France, who led the study. But “this is the first time that an experimental approach in a real context found the effects of loud music on alcohol consumption.”

By “real context,” he means the two bars in the west of France that he and his colleagues visited—purely for research purposes!—on three Saturday evenings. They surreptitiously observed 40 men between the ages of 18 to 25 who had ordered a glass of draft beer. They also toggled the sound levels of the top 40 songs on the bars’ playlist between 72 decibels, which is normal, and 88 dB, considered loud. Result: the louder the music, the more the guys drank, and in less time than when the volume was turned down.

One reason may be that loud music causes higher physiological arousal—a faster heart rate, higher blood pressure and the like, which led the men “to drink faster and to order more drinks,” said Guéguen. Alternatively, loud music may make it so hard to hold a conversation that patrons drink more because they talk less.

The lesson he takes from this is that “we need to encourage bar owners to play music at more of a moderate level ... and make consumers aware that loud music can influence their alcohol consumption.” We won’t hold our breath while bars weigh the increased revenue from getting patrons to drink more, faster, against the social virtue of doing something as simple as turning down the volume in order to reduce how much booze they sell.

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