Study shows placebo effect in energy drinks and alcohol

Young male participants in a recent study believed they were more drunk than they really were when told their alcohol was mixed with an energy drink.
By Amy Wallace   |   May 11, 2017 at 11:39 AM
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May 11 (UPI) -- Researchers found that men who believed they were drinking an energy drink and alcohol cocktail were more likely to believe they were more drunk and uninhibited.

"Red Bull has long used the slogan 'Red Bull gives you wings,' but our study shows that this type of advertising can make people think it has intoxicating qualities when it doesn't," Yann Cornil, an assistant professor at the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, said in a press release. "Essentially, when alcohol is mixed with an energy drink and people are aware of it, they feel like they're more intoxicated simply because the marketing says they should feel that way."

A study of 154 young men at the Paris-based INSEAD Sorbonne University Behavioral Lab found that 51 percent of men who drank cocktails labeled as containing vodka and the energy drink Red Bull showed increased perceived intoxication compared to those who drank cocktails labeled as vodka and fruit juice.

Research also showed men who drank the cocktail mix labeled as being Red Bull and vodka were more likely to approach and "chat up" women and led to more risk-taking in a gambling game.

The Red Bull and vodka labeled cocktails showed an increase in men waiting before deciding to drive a vehicle by 14 minutes more than those who drank vodka and fruit juice labeled cocktails.

Researchers believe the marketing placebo effect is a real psychological effect in which a brand influences consumers' expectations and their behavior.

The study demonstrated this by showing that there is a causal effect of mixing alcohol and energy drinks on perceived intoxication and real behaviors driven by the expectation that energy drinks boost the effects of alcohol.

All study participants had the same drink but their belief about what they were drinking impacted their behavior.

"Beliefs that people have about a product can be just as important as the ingredients of the product itself," Pierre Chandon, professor of marketing, innovation and creativity at INSEAD, said. "Regulations and codes of conduct should consider the psychological -- and not just physiological -- effects of products."

The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

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