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Study: Shape of Your Beer Glass Affects How Quickly You Drink
Two new studies have found that the shape of your beer glass and the presence or absence of markings affect how quickly you drink alcohol. The findings have important consequences when considering binge drinking—effectively defined as consuming enough alcohol to put you over the limit for driving (a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent)—and its numerous health risks and impacts on society. Could we reduce the level of excessive drinking in society by altering the shape and design of the glasses we serve alcohol in? The new studies suggest that, surprisingly, the answer could be yes.
The studies were both presented at the annual conference of the British Psychology Society and both aimed to answer different parts of the same question in lab and real-world environments: does the shape of and markings on the glass affect how quickly somebody drinks? The first study looked specifically at the effect of markings on the glasses, recruiting 160 participants (equal numbers of each gender) and splitting them into two groups—both had curved (and otherwise identical) glasses, but one group’s glasses had markings indicating when the glasses were three-quarters, half- and a quarter-full.
The findings show that people who drank from marked glasses drank more slowly than those without marked glasses, taking 10 minutes, 18 seconds to finish their drinks in comparison to nine minutes, six seconds for those using unmarked glasses. This is an interesting finding, but with no full published study available (only a summary), it’s important to note one detail: participants with “abnormally slow” drinking times were removed from the analysis.
The other study was similar, but looked at the effect of curved glasses in comparison to straight-sided ones. This study was also conducted in bars, with three bars participating over two weekends: serving drinks in straight glasses one weekend and curved glasses the next. The results showed that using straight-sided glasses led to lower earnings for the bar and therefore indicated that patrons drank less. Other, lab-based studies also confirm that straight-sided glasses lead to slower drinking.
Psychologist Angela Atwood, the senior researcher involved in the studies, commented that “The speed at which beer is drunk can have a direct effect on the level of intoxication experienced. This can also increase how much is consumed in a single drinking session. Our research suggests that small changes such as glass shape and volume markings can help individuals make more accurate judgments of the volume they are drinking, and hopefully drinkers will use this information to drink at a slower pace.”
Other Findings: Over-Pouring Wine Based on the Glass
The results from these studies are roughly in agreement with those of a similar piece of research looking at the factors affecting how much wine drinkers pour. This showed that factors including the color of the wine, the shape of the glass and the pouring position impacted how much drinkers poured into a glass, with participants pouring 12 percent more into a wide glass. This result—and those from the recent studies—suggests that people struggle to estimate volume and that the characteristics of the glass make a difference.
The implication of this research is fairly clear: it might be possible to combat binge drinking (and excessive drinking overall) by adjusting the glasses alcohol is served in. From a public health perspective, it seems like a useful approach with no downside: it isn’t impacting personal freedom, but helps people be more mindful about how much they’re consuming, potentially helping them avoid bingeing. The only issue is from the perspective of the bar owners: would bars really choose straight-sided glasses if they knew that—like in the real-world study—they would make less money?
Reducing Binge Drinking With Unique Approaches
The results do suggest that legislative action to limit the type of types of glasses that can be used would be beneficial. Of course, the problem won’t disappear—an alcoholic will drink too much regardless of the glass—but for the majority of binge drinkers who don’t actually have an addiction, it could help reduce harmful drinking. Further research would add weight to the suggestion, but it’s a definitely plausible and unique approach that might help minimize the harm alcohol causes in our society.