Red wine induces psychological states characterized by bliss, a focus on the present moment, an enhanced fascination with one’s surroundings, and a softening of the differentiation between oneself and the environment when consumed in a tranquil environment, according to new research published in PLOS One.
Although the intoxicating effect of alcohol is common knowledge, little research has been conducted to examine how wine consumption is related to specific changes in consciousness.
“Alcohol is the most commonly used psychoactive substance worldwide. Thus, it is very surprising that so few studies have examined its positive effects on consciousness, especially when drunk in places where alcohol is normally drunk. This is important, because environment influences the way psychoactive substances act on the brain,” explained study author Rui Miguel Costa, a researcher at the William James Center for Research.
“When it comes to red wine, there are many studies on what influences flavor, but this contrasts markedly with the lack of studies on the effects of red wine on consciousness. Most people drink wine certainly to appreciate the taste, but also to feel the pleasant altered states of consciousness that even moderate doses can cause. So, it is important to characterize these changes in consciousness, especially in places where wine is normally drunk and appreciated, such as wine bars.”
To find participants for their naturalistic study, the researchers personally visited a wine bar located in a tourist area of Lisbon, Portugal. They ended up recruiting 102 individuals, who agreed to return to the bar at a later date.
After arriving at the wine bar and being seated at a table, the participants completed questionnaires regarding their demographics, drinking habits, and smoking habits. They also completed various measures of altered states of consciousness. The participants were asked to drink two glasses of Quinta da Lapa Reserva Syrah 2018. They were allowed to eat some snacks and smoke, but could only drink the red wine and water. They were also asked not to use smartphones or other distracting technologies. Immediately after having finished their second glass of wine, the participants completed the measures of altered states of consciousness again.
Costa and his colleagues found that drinking red wine was associated with improved mood, increased arousal, and a diminished awareness of time. The participants also felt more insightful and emotionally engaged with their environment after consuming the alcoholic beverage in the wine bar.
“A moderate dose of red wine drunk in a pleasant environment can bring blissful feelings and make the immediate surroundings become more attractive and fascinating,” Costa told PsyPost. “Original thoughts are more likely to come to mind, and for most people there is an increase in arousal. This happens to those for whom drinking red wine is a familiar and enjoyable experience, and may not apply to all people.”
This was true regardless of whether the participant drank alone, drank with another person, or drank with a small group.
The researchers also found evidence that red wine decreased body awareness and blurred the differentiation between the self and the environment. “In other words, red wine increased the sense of unity and connection with the other people and the place around,” Costa explained. “These states in which people perceive themselves as less separated from the social and physical environment are commonly seen as promoters of spiritual experiences, and are often named as “‘oceanic feelings.’ This might be one reason why wine had an important role in some mystical traditions in antiquity. Indeed, we observed that the red wine elicited mystical feelings in those more predisposed to such experiences.”
The study had a relatively high level of ecological validity, meaning there was a high degree of correspondence between the research conditions and real-world circumstances. But conducting a naturalistic study comes with some inherent limitations. For instance, the tranquil atmosphere of the wine bar could have impacted the participants’ experience.
“Some people may argue that the lack of a control group drinking a non-alcoholic beverage impeded us to examine the effects of just being in a pleasant wine bar,” Costa said. “However, this is unlikely to have influenced the results, because when we were doing the study, it was clear that, for most people, sitting in a wine bar drinking a non-alcoholic beverage would have been a boring and aversive experience. In contrast, the effects we observed were of a highly positive nature. But because some researchers may not be aware of how boring control conditions with non-alcoholic drinks can be in these cases, we would include one in a next study.”
“I believe that the appreciation of red wine (and other alcoholic beverages) can be increased when we are more aware of its effects on the mind,” Costa added. “It is also possible that being aware of the effects of alcohol on consciousness contributes to healthier drinking styles by reducing impulsive drinking that is characterized by lack of awareness. However, research is needed to confirm this.”
The study, “The power of Dionysus—Effects of red wine on consciousness in a naturalistic setting“, was authored by Rui Miguel Costa, Arlindo Madeira, Matilde Barata, and Marc Wittmann.