When it comes to drinking, most people are familiar with the concept of "blacking out." You plan for a fun evening, you drink the night away, but you find when you wake up in the morning, you can hardly remember what actually happened last night. As common as this is, a new study suggests a completely opposite effect: Drinking alcohol may actually improve a person's memory.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter, found that alcohol can help you retain memories acquired prior to the time you were actually drinking, EurekAlert! Science News reports.
If you're having trouble believing this, here's how the study went down.
Eighty-eight social drinkers between the ages of 18 and 53 were instructed to participate in a word-learning task.
After completing the task, everyone was split into two groups -- one of which was told to drink as much they wanted, while the other was not allowed to drink at all.
The next day, the participants performed the same word-learning task.
Those who drank alcohol after the word-learning task the day prior had retained more information than those who hadn't drank at all.
Professor Celia Morgan of the University of Exeter told EurekAlert! Science News,
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.
Now, I know what you're thinking. If you search around basically anywhere on the internet, you'll find a ton of articles claiming alcohol and memory loss are closely tied.
You'll find heavy drinking can significantly impair your memory, including brief moments of total memory loss, as well as a decreased control over your normal mental functions altogether.
However, there is a catch here.
While she admits she and her colleagues don't fully understand the causes of the effect they found in their research, she believes “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.
If you're still side-eyeing this alcohol-improves-memory thing, I don't blame you. Conflicting information runs rampant on the internet.
However, other research has supported this idea that alcohol can sometimes prime the brain to remember certain pieces of information.
Neurobiologist Hitoshi Morikawa told ScienceDaily,
Alcohol diminishes our ability to hold on to pieces of information like your colleague's name, or the definition of a word, or where you parked your car this morning. But our subconscious is learning and remembering too, and alcohol may actually increase our capacity to learn, or 'conditionability,' at that level.
Now, in no way does this mean you should go out and get hammered for the sake of "improving" your memory. Alcohol can absolutely still cause blackouts and impaired decision-making, (and, if you're a heavy drinker, alcohol can diminish your brain size and ruin your ability to think abstractly).
However, it certainly doesn't hurt to know a little liquid courage can not only help you have a fun night out on the town, but may also help you tap into your memory's long-term subconscious.