, Volume 235, Issue 4, pp 1221–1232 | Cite as

Inhibiting automatic negative social responses in alcohol intoxication: interactions with theory of mind ability and level of task guidance

  • Emma G. Johnson
  • Sarah Skromanis
  • Raimondo Bruno
  • Jonathan Mond
  • Cynthia A. Honan
Original Investigation



Alcohol intoxication is associated with socially disinhibited behaviours that may reflect impaired social cognitive abilities that guide social behaviour. The effects of alcohol on social cognition and how this may contribute to disinhibited behaviour are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to examine whether intoxicated individuals could inhibit automatic negative responses to negative social information, whether these difficulties were reliant on theory of mind (ToM) ability and whether intoxicated individuals were able to adjust verbal responses when provided with guidelines about how to respond.


Sixty-four participants aged between 18 and 34 (balanced for gender) consumed a beverage containing either placebo or alcohol calculated to achieve a target BrAC of 0.080%, before completing a Flanker task, a go/no-go task and a novel measure of social disinhibition, the social disinhibition task.


Results indicate that alcohol-intoxicated individuals can inhibit negative responses to negative social information, but display difficulty inhibiting negative responses to social information that requires ToM. They also suggest that people under the influence of moderate-to-high-dose alcohol can adjust their responses when provided with specific guidelines on how to respond.


These findings may have important implications for understanding negative alcohol-related behaviours and promote the consideration of social context, social pressure and social cognitive abilities in the development of public policy and targeted interventions to prevent alcohol-related antisocial behaviours.


Alcohol intoxication Social cognition Social disinhibition Theory of mind Alcohol myopia model 



We wish to thank Tasmania Police (Launceston) for their support and loan of breathalyser equipment.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma G. Johnson
    • 1
  • Sarah Skromanis
    • 2
  • Raimondo Bruno
    • 2
  • Jonathan Mond
    • 3
  • Cynthia A. Honan
    • 2
  1. 1.Brain and Mind Centre, School of PsychologyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Discipline of Psychology, School of MedicineUniversity of TasmaniaLauncestonAustralia
  3. 3.Centre for Rural HealthUniversity of TasmaniaLauncestonAustralia

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