Behavioural Economics: How to regulate the rate of alcohol consumption.

The Economist wrote a piece on the influence that the type of glass has on how fast you drink. Research by Angela Attwood of the University of Bristol has shown that the shape of a beer glass can regulate how quickly someone does drink. The experiment was done with 160 undergraduates – 80 men and 80 women – and they were asked to do one of four things.

1. Drink beer out of a straight glass
2. Drink beer out of a flute (a glass whose sides curve outward towards the rim)
3. Drink lemonade out of a straight glass
4. Drink lemonade out of a flute.

To complicate matters some glasses were half-full and others full. In order to acquire accurate research data the students were not told what the experiment was hoping to conclude but were led to believe that they were taking a language test after being shown various films. What the researchers were hoping to find out was how quickly the participants drank the 4 drinks. The time it took to consume the four drinks were as follows:

The full straight glass of beer – 11 minutes
The full flute glass of beer – 7 minutes
The full straight glass of lemondade – 7minutes
The full flute glass of lemonade – 7 minutes

The assumption from this experiment is that a beer drinker wishing to monitor how much he/she are drinking during the night uses the volume reamining in the glass with reference to the halfway mark. A curved-sided glass makes that judgment difficult and most volunteers thought the half-way mark in the flute was lower than its true value, and if a volunteer had drunk from such a glass originally, the degree of misestimation correlated with how fast he had drunk. If a glass is half-full to start with, however, this reference point is lost from the beginning. So the shape of the beer glass can affect how fast beer is drunk. Health campaigners and breweries might have differing opinions on what is the best shaped glass to serve beer.

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