University students in north-east England have been taking part in a study to see the effects of binge drinking on memory. So what counted as binge drinking? Imbibing 6 units of alcohol in a drinking session twice a week or more was the criterion, and those students with other habits such as smoking and drug taking were screened out. Anxiety, age and depression had no effect on the results of both the binge drinkers and the control non-binging group.
The experimental task was to watch a 10-minute video clip of a Scarborough shopping district , and participants had to remember a series of instructions which they then had to carry out when they saw specified locations.
So what happened? The binge drinkers did far worse than the non-binging students, recalling significantly fewer combinations of location-action/items. This form of recall linking an action to a point in the future is known as prospective memory, for example remembering to go to a doctor’s appointment.
Research team leader Heffernan points out that so far there is no known “safe” level for teenagers’ drinking, and that possibly excessive drinking might interfere with the neuro-cognitive development of the teenage brain. This research adds to the evidence which is mounting up that because teenage brains are still maturing and undergoing significant development in terms of structure and function they could be seriously affected by environmental factors such as alcohol binges. However, one fact which has come out of this research is that self-reports showed that binging participants did not think their own memory functioned poorly, suggesting that they are unaware of the damage being caused.