Binge drinking and driving? Not OK. Binge drinking and testing? Maybe
Binge drinking may be a serious problem on college campuses, but a recent study showed that one thing might not be affected by boozing it up -- academic test scores.
Researchers from Boston University, Brown University, Abt Associates and Boston Medical Center devised a placebo-controlled double-blind crossover study with 196 Boston-area college students age 21 to 24. They were observed under two scenarios: In one, they were given the equivalent of about seven 12-ounce cans of beer (for men) or about five 12-ounce cans of beer (for women). Not to worry -- the participants were highly supervised and weren't allowed to drive. In the other situation, they were given nonalcoholic beer as a placebo.
The next morning the students were given two tests, one measuring short-term memory and another (a version of the Graduate Record Examination) measuring long-term memory and focusing on verbal and quantitative skills. The students were also tested for cognitive performance and mood.
There were no differences on either test scores for the alcohol and placebo group, and scores on both tests were relatively high. However, researchers did see lower mood scores in the alcohol group, and attention and reaction time were also worse in that group.
Before any college students run out to ingest copious amounts of alcohol, listen up: While this may be good news for testing performance, the study authors are quick to caution that the information shouldn't be used as a justification to get blotto -- before taking a test or any other time. They wrote, "We do not conclude, however, that excessive drinking is not a risk factor for academic problems. It is possible that a higher alcohol dose would have affected next-day academic test scores. Moreover, test-taking is only one factor in academic success. Study habits, motivation and class attendance also contribute to academic performance; each of these could be affected by intoxication."
They added that tasks requiring higher cognitive skills, such as essay writing and complex problem-solving, could take a hit after a night of drinking, as well as performance skills, like, say, driving a car.
The study appears in the April issue of the journal Addiction.
-- Jeannine Stein
Photo credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times