Hangovers associated with impaired response times

Hangovers are a popular topic of conversation, usually regarding how they can be prevented or cured. The topic has even spilled over into scientific studies. Sadly, there are no miracle treatments to report at this time. Alcohol itself has been extensively studied due to its link to accidents and has been regularly shown to impair many aspects of cognition. However, oddly, not much is known about the impact of hangovers on cognitive processes. A 2016 study helps to remedy this information shortage by demonstrating that hangovers may inhibit choice response times.

Available in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the described experiment included 31 subjects (20 female) after a large amount of the initial subject pool (they recruited 100 in total) was excluded for a variety of reasons. All participants completed standard choice reaction tasks on two different days. They were asked to not drink the night before one of the sessions, while ensuring that they did consume alcohol the night previous to the other test (or to cancel the session if they decided not to drink). Blood alcohol levels were verified using a breathalyzer.

Statistical analyses concluded that participant reaction times were significantly slower on the day they were hungover. Reaction time was also found to be more widely variant in the hangover condition, indicating a reduction in information processing speed, while additional time was allotted to being cautious. It appears that each of these underlying factors contributed to the overall impairment in reaction time. However, there was no conclusive evidence to suggest that reaction accuracy was effected. The researchers caution that there was also no indication that accuracy was not impacted, so no conclusion can be drawn either way.

The results of this study suggest that cognitive processes can be impaired by a hangover. Reaction times in choice-making tasks were significantly longer when subjects had consumed alcohol the previous night. Two aspects of cognition in particular appeared to be effected: choice processing time and the application of caution, each of which added to delays in task completion.

However, it is possible that the impact on time allotted to caution was a result of being under an experimental condition rather than the actual hangover. The subjects may have been more cautions because they knew they were being tested, so future research would benefit from employing a less obvious form of measurement.