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People Judge Intoxicated Men and Women Differently, Study Suggests

Update Date: Jul 11, 2013 10:44 AM EDT

How people use language to describe one another can reveal cultural stereotypes. Since words are typically rooted in either a negative or positive light, with only a few words that could be considered neutral, the words people choose to use can affect the person described. In a new study, researchers analyzed the specific types of words that people used when describing others who are intoxicated.

In this study, researchers recruited 130 college students who were asked to read a scene about young adults attending a birthday party located at a bar. The scene was written multiple times to describe the different levels of alcohol consumption. In scenes, the party lasted for three hours, and the aspects of the story that changed were the number of drinks consumed and the actions that resulted. Some of the actions included slurred speech, stumbling and required assistance in putting on a coat or jacket. The readers were asked to describe the characters.

In the scene where the characters were described to be drinking moderately, the readers used moderate terms to describe them regardless of whether or not they were men or women. When the scene changed and the people were drinking heavily, the readers changed the types of words used to describe the characters. This time, the readers described the people very differently depending on whether or not they were men or women. For male characters, the participants described them as "trashed," "plowed," "plastered," and other strong words. For women, participants used softer words such as, "tipsy" and "light-headed."

The disparities between the ways people described others based on sex could indicate how the sexes consume alcohol differently. For example, even though the scene described the women as heavy drinkers, the participants still did not use words that would describe a heavy drinker. This could mean that women tend to underestimate their own alcohol tolerance, which could lead to potentially dangerous situations.

"It's certainly easy to imagine a situation where they [women] drive after leaving a bar, where they are too intoxicated to drive," lead researcher, Ash Levitt from the University of Buffalo said according to NPR.

From the men's perspective, the pungent words used could mean that these are the types of words most commonly associated with getting drunk. This could potentially mean that men might feel more pressure to drink up to that point. However, the researchers stated that their findings are based on perceptions. More research looking into whether or not these perceptions hold true in real life situations would be needed.

The study was published in the journal, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

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