Education

It’s official: drinking helps you learn

By Kitty Knowles 4 August 2017
Summary

Drinking is GOOD for your memory? Thank goodness I was a boozehound at uni.

Remember being at uni, and the golden £1-a-pint nights at the Student Union?

If not, your liver thanks you. (That, or you took it too far).

Now however, it turns out alcohol can actually improve your brain’s ability to learn.

Because drinking booze improves your memory, say scientists.

Say what?

We know, we know. Obviously drinking often doesn’t make it easier to recall events that happened during a heavy session (and no one is going to suggest drinking is overall good for your physical health).

But, for some reason, the drunk brain’s foggy state allows us to hang on better to information we’ve received previously, suggests a new study in Scientific Reports.

Drinking alcohol after a lesson, for example, would aid our ability to store and remember those learnings.

It’s a case of ‘the more alcohol, the sharper the memory the following day’.

The science

Not convinced? For the study, a team of researchers invited 88 adults who enjoy drinking (aged 18-53) to take part in series of memory-based games.

At around 6pm, subjects would hear 24 made-up words that were similar to real words (like ‘frenzylk’ instead of frenzy).

These would be repeated 36 times in different orders, and an hour later at 7pm, they’d be prompted with clues like (frenzy_ _) to remember them.

At 8pm half were assigned to drink – as much they wanted, with each consuming a mean average of 82.6 grams (about 8 units – the equivalent of 4 medium glasses of wine). The other half carried on sober.

At 10pm, a picture challenge started where subjects were shown 128 images and were asked to sort them as “indoor” or “outdoor” (a giraffe snap would be outdoor, for example). Then around 60 new images were added, and subjects had to recall if they were the same image, similar, or totally new.

Afterward drinkers could imbibe more, or call it a night (as long as measures were tracked).

The next morning at 10am, everyone retook both the word and picture tests to see who remembered the most.

Brilliant boozy brains

Would you believe it: not only did the sober group forget more words between evening and morning, but the drinkers scored significantly better in the word test than they did in the evening. (However all remembered about the same when it came to images).

The lead author of the study, Celia Morgan of the University of Exeter, hasn’t yet confirmed why boozing improves memory, and suggests “caution” about taking the findings on the nose.

The team previously thought that a sort of memory off-switch during boozing might allow the mind to work harder storing recently banked information.

However they now believe the answer could lie in the deep sleep that often follows drinking – and is known to enhance memory skills.

The big question is: who’s ready to raise a glass in the next study?

Read more:

An alcohol-free future is on the cards