When you are out to dinner and enjoying a glass of wine or having a beer at a bar with friends, chances are you are not paying any attention whatsoever to the glass in which your alcoholic beverage arrived. But maybe this is something you should start to notice. Recent research has found that the shape of the glass we drink our alcohol from greatly influences the speed with which we drink.1
Scientists at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom set up an experiment using 160 volunteers between the ages of 18 to 40 who were defined as social drinkers. None had any history of alcoholism. In the first portion of the trial, the participants were provided with either lager or a non-alcoholic drink. Some were in curved, flute-shaped glasses, while others were in straight-sided glassware. Of the group that was given lager, those drinking from a curved glass were found to consume their beverages at a rate nearly twice as fast as their counterparts drinking from a straight glass.
Interestingly, the subjects drinking non-alcoholic beverages exhibited no difference in the speed of their consumption whether drinking from a straight or a curved glass. That led the researchers to surmise that a conscious level of pacing was taking place among the alcohol drinkers. Those using straight-edged glasses could pace themselves comfortably, easily judging how long it was taking to reach the halfway point and therefore their rate of consumption. Those using curved glasses, on the other hand, appeared to experience an impairment in that perception (independent of the alcohol itself, of course) due to the shape of the glass. It hindered their ability to judge just how much they had consumed.
For the second portion of the trial, the same group of participants performed a similar type of judgment task, but this time on the computer. Each volunteer was shown a variety of pictures of the two types of glasses holding different amounts of liquid. They were then questioned as to whether each glass was more or less than halfway filled. Consistently, the subjects had a much more difficult time accurately gauging the level of liquid in the curved glasses than in the straight ones. So clearly it wasn't the alcohol consumption that was affecting their judgment in the first experiment.
And the more their ability to judge the halfway level was off, the greater the overall problem. The participants who made the biggest mistakes in gauging the midpoint of the glasses also had the greatest increase in the speed with which they drank. Therefore, the bottom line was that the people who could least perceive how much alcohol had already been consumed were the fastest drinkers when using the curved glasses.
This finding is important because the quicker a person drinks their alcohol, the faster it will affect them. Additionally, it's no surprise that speedier drinkers will tend to drink a greater quantity of alcoholic beverages since they finish faster, thus allowing more time to drink even more.2 This can lead to binge drinking, or even potentially deadly alcohol poisoning. Those providing alcohol, whether at home among friends or to patrons in bars and restaurants, might want to take note. Laws in the much of the United States, for instance, hold the provider responsible if an injury or accident occurs as a result of drunkenness.3
As a consumer, checking out the glass in which your drink arrives couldn't hurt. If it's straight-edged, just keep an eye on your pace as usual. If it's curved, you might have to make an extra effort if you happen to be a moderate to heavy drinker. The jury is still out on whether alcohol is beneficial or harmful to us as far as research studies go (and both are most likely true to some extent). But, as with everything in life, moderation is definitely the way to go if you drink alcohol. Have a glass and enjoy it, then call it quits. And, if you have trouble pacing yourself when drinking, feel free to request a straight-sided glass…and a designated driver, of course.
1 "Glass Shape Influences How Quickly We Drink Alcohol." ScienceDaily. 31 August 2012. Accessed 5 September 2012. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120831104157.htm>.
2 "Alcohol Poisoning and Overdose." Virginia Tech. 2006. Accessed 6 September 2012. <http://www.alcohol.vt.edu/21stbirthday/alcoholpoisoning.html>.
3 "Social Host Alcohol Liability." Lawyers.com. 2012. Accessed 6 September 2012. <http://criminal.lawyers.com/DUI-DWI/Social-Host-Alcohol-Liability.html>.