Alcohol helps us remember the good times - and forget the bad, experts say
By Fiona Macrae
Last updated at 6:16 PM on 09th September 2008
It is the perfect excuse for having a drink or two. Scientists have shown alcohol helps us remember the good things and forget the bad.
Alcohol affects memory formation meaning that memories of the start of the night, when we are merely tipsy and are having fun socialising with our friends, are strong and happy ones. But any embarrassing antics that occur as we become more and more inebriated are quickly forgotten.
The discovery that alcohol helps us remember the good and brush aside the bad could explain our fascination with alcohol, said researcher Theodora Duka. Professor Duka said: 'This bias towards positive memories means that people are more likely to drink heavily the next time they go out because they only remember the good memories about the last time.'
The Sussex University researcher looked at how well people recalled flash cards shown just before and just after drinking several units of alcohol. Their answers were compared with those from a similar group given alcohol-free drinks, the British Association's Festival of Science in Liverpool heard.
Both the drinkers and non-drinkers remembered the first set of cards better than the second. However, the drinkers remembered the first set of cards better than the non-drinkers and recalled emotive images particularly vividly. But they scored worse than the non-drinkers when asked to remember the second set of cards, with emotional scenes proving especially easy to forget.
It is thought that small amounts of alcohol prevent the brain from forming new memories and so help consolidate memories of things that happen just before we start drinking. But, in high quantities, alcohol may interfere with the brain chemicals involved in memory formation.
Outside the laboratory, this could mean that we associate drinking with expectations of a fun night out with our friends - and not any drunken antics or illness that occurs later on.
But other research has shown that alcohol may do long-term damage to the brains of binge-drinking teenagers.