Scientists had previously noted the relationship between environmental cues and the amount of food an individual consumes. For example, plate size can dictate the portion sizes that people will dispense during meal times. Likewise, the aesthetics of product packaging has been known to influence buying and eating habits. On this basis, researchers from Iowa State and Cornell universities collaborated on a joint study to determine whether similar environmental cues and alcohol pouring method, could influence how much an individual drinks.
The Drinking Station Study
The researchers performed their study using a population sample of over 70 students. All of the participants were of the legal drinking age and consumed at least one glass of wine a week. The results were published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse.
Students were moved through a series of stations and asked to pour themselves a regular serving of wine. Each station presented a slightly different environmental cue to assess how the wine drinkers’ pouring habits would alter.
Different types of wine glass were used, including large, wide and standard. The influence of “pouring position” was also measured; some participants were asked to pour a regular serving of wine when holding the glass, whilst others were tasked with pouring the wine with the glass left on the table. On average, participants poured 11.9 percent more wine when using wide glasses. Students who were holding their glasses, poured over 12 percent more wine into their glasses than those individuals who added wine to a table-bound glass.
When investigating visual cues, both red and white wine was used to see whether color contrast made any difference – with low contrast between the wine glass and white wine and high contrast between red wine and the glass. Researchers found that people who poured white wine (low contrast) were more likely to dispense larger servings than students pouring red white (high contrast).
Finally, at various stations, large or small place settings were laid out. This was the team’s attempt to determine whether subjects consumed more alcohol when anticipating a meal; this appeared to have a much lower bearing on wine pouring behavior than any of the other factors.
Implications of Findings
Interestingly, many of the subjects were surprisingly conscious of how these cues influenced their drinking habits. After attending the various stations, participants were asked to rate the extent to which the various factors influenced their drinking practices. The group cited glass width, “pouring position” and color contrast as being the top factors, thinking that was supported by the researchers’ statistical findings.
Dr. Doug Walker, the study’s lead author, said that simply asking an individual how much they consume, based upon the number of servings, is not an accurate reflection of how much alcohol a person genuinely imbibes in:
“One person’s two is totally different than another person’s two. Participants in the study were asked to pour the same amount at each setting, but they just couldn’t tell the difference.”
A similar study was performed by Bian Wansink, John S. Dyson and Koert van Ittersum, who published their findings in the British Medical Journal, in 2005. The group followed the pouring habits of a number of students and bartenders, finding that more alcohol was poured into short, wide glasses than tall, slender glasses. Bartenders poured 20.5 percent more into short, wide glasses than tall, slender ones.
Ultimately, it is believed that wine pouring method and environmental cues dictate the volume of alcohol a person truly drinks. The study’s findings could help to educate people in understanding exactly how much alcohol they are drinking. If an individual wishes to gain greater control over the amount of alcohol they drink, the team recommend avoiding wide wine glasses, whilst pouring their servings with the glass positioned on a flat surface.
By: James Fenner