Shape of sobriety

Brewing beer is a practice that dates back to the beginnings of “civilisation”. Somewhere around ten to fifteen thousand years ago human beings decided to settle in one spot and grow crops. Once grain became a regular part of the diet it wasn’t long until by chance we discovered that grain could ferment and the rest, as they say, is history. The earliest evidence of beer dates to around 6000 years ago when the Sumerians, living between the Tigris and Euphrates, were enjoying what it had to offer. In fact, early civilisations thought the mood altering properties of beer supernatural, and intoxication was considered divine. Among certain sections of society this belief persists today and many can be seen worshipping regularly at the altar of the god Ale. As well as the beer itself, new research suggests that the glass you drink it from might also have supernatural powers because it can determine how much you will drink.

Binge drinking is an undeniable and serious problem in modern society. Drinking more than two standard drinks a day or in any one session is unhealthy, so ways to moderate alcohol consumption are always being sought and it appears that the shape of a beer glass may be part of the answer.

Social drinkers aged between 18 and 40 years took part in this study. In the first experiment people were given beer in either a straight-sided glass or a curved “beer flute”. Others were given non-alcoholic beverage in straight or curved glasses.

The results showed that alcohol consumption was twice as rapid from curved glasses as it was from straight glasses. Interestingly there was no such difference between the two glass shapes when non-alcoholic beverages were consumed.

In a second experiment people were asked to look at computer images of straight or curved glasses filled with beer and to answer the question, “Is the glass more or less than half full?”

People were considerably more inaccurate when looking at drinks in curved glasses. Interestingly, those who made the greatest mistakes tended to be the ones who drank fastest from curved glasses in the first experiment.

How fast you drink determines how rapidly you become intoxicated and the researchers report that people often talk about “pacing themselves” as a way to avoid drunkenness. So if curved glasses change your accuracy in determining how much you are drinking they can make you get drunk faster. The fact that glass shape does not influence non-alcoholic drink consumption suggests that perhaps a sort of vicious cycle is set up where the faster consumption of alcohol impairs perception (or judgement) and so the cycle continues.

If you want to be in better control of your alcohol intake then ask for your beer in a straight-sided glass, you might be accused of being “square” but it seems that beer from curved glasses could have you a hops, skip, and a slump from having had one too many.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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