Before you start thinking wild parties and exotic cures, this is about the power of expectation. It was originally created for a TV programme on the psychology of drinking alcohol… A group of students were invited to a free bar (student heaven!), and told they could drink as much as they liked. They were randomly given either a red or a blue badge, and the only condition was that they each had to get their own drinks.
The evening began with a few sobriety tests – walking along straight line, catching a falling ruler, and memorising a list of numbers. Throughout the evening, people would be pulled away from the group to repeat these tasks, so that their levels of inebriation could be assessed.
As you might expect, as the drinks flowed, people became louder and more flirtatious. By the end of the evening, the lists of numbers they were able to recall had shrunk considerably, and walks along the white line were far from straight.
But here’s the twist. The results were very similar regardless of the colour of badge they’d been given, even though the blue badge wearers (unbeknown to them) had been drinking alcohol-free alternatives all night. A beautiful illustration of the power of expectation – they thought they were drinking, expected to get drunk, and their memory, co-ordination and reaction times responded accordingly. And yet when the ruse was explained, they laughed and instantly sobered up.
OK, it’s an elaborate way of cutting down on your drinking, but how many of your experiences (particularly stressful ones) are shaped by your expectations, rather than the experience itself? The Monday morning you’ve been dreading, the conversation you’ve been putting off, or the pile of emails you just can’t face in case there’s something nasty in there…. Those expectations may have been well-shaped over time, but is it really worth stressing yourself out ahead of time?
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