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Binge-drinkers’ brains have to work harder to feel empathy for others

Too much alcohol changes brain function. For example, those who drink too much alcohol on a regular basis lose compassion for other people. British researchers have now found this out. They showed coma drinkers pictures of people in pain.

The test subjects were sober at the time of the experiment. The test subjects lay in an MRI, which simultaneously took pictures of their brains. As a control, abstinent test subjects were also examined in exactly the same way.

The researchers showed the participants a picture of an injured limb and asked them to imagine that it was their own body part or that of another person. They were then asked to indicate how much pain was associated with the image.

The drinking participants had more trouble than the non-drinkers when trying to take the perspective of another person experiencing the pain: They needed more time to react. The brain recordings showed that their brains had to work harder – use more neural resources – to estimate how intensely another person would feel pain.

It is different when it comes to their own sensations. When the drinkers were asked to imagine the injured body part in the picture as their own, their pain assessment did not differ from that of non-drinkers.

“Our findings are quite surprising,” says University of Sussex psychologist Dr Charlotte Rae. Our data show that drinkers have to exert more effort to feel empathy for others who are in pain. They have to use more resources in the form of higher brain activity than non-drinkers.

For daily life, this means: People with high alcohol consumption may have difficulty perceiving the pain of others, like non-intoxicated drinkers. It is not that binge drinkers feel less empathy – but they have to use more brain resources to be able to do so. However, in certain circumstances, when resources are limited, binge drinkers may have difficulty responding empathically to others.”

Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of more than 60 grams of pure alcohol – (equivalent to about three quarters of a bottle of wine or a good litre of beer) in the last 30 days. About 30 percent of all French and British people over the age of 15 meet this criterion.

Primary source: University of Sussex. Binge-drinkers’ brains have to work harder to feel empathy for others

Secondary source (german)

Photo by Maurício Mascaro / Pexels

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