Less wait for travel could reduce drinking and driving in people with 'urgency' personality trait

December 3, 2012

Saving bar patrons' time on their commute home could save lives. A pair of studies by University of Missouri psychologists found that people who reported drinking and driving also exhibited "urgency," or a lack of emotional self-control, especially while drinking. This suggests that some people when intoxicated may be more likely to choose the convenience of driving themselves home instead of waiting for a taxi, said Denis McCarthy, associate professor of psychology at MU.

"Our study correlated urgency, a specific type of , to and ," McCarthy said. "Individuals with a high degree of urgency tend to act impulsively when they are in both positive and . By looking at that correlate with drinking and driving, we can help people understand how their personalities might incline them to choose the risk of driving after drinking. Once a person knows this, they can decide to take extra care to moderate their drinking or be prepared to call a cab, hop on a bus or ask a designated driver for help."

In one study, McCarthy and his colleagues evaluated 29 individuals based on whether they had recently driven after consuming three or more drinks in the previous two hours. The were repeatedly presented with the option of receiving a small amount of money (five cents) as a reward after waiting five seconds or a larger amount (15 cents) as a reward after 15 seconds. Choosing the shorter wait and smaller reward was considered an expression of .

Participants completed the test twice – once while sober and once after . Individuals who reported drinking and driving were not different from other participants in their impulsivity when sober. After consuming alcohol, those who reported drinking and driving exhibited a significantly higher degree of impulsivity.

In the second study, McCarthy and his colleagues surveyed more than 800 individuals about their drinking and driving beliefs and behaviors. The survey also assessed the degree to which they expressed impulsive characteristics such as urgency, lack of planning or perseverance, and sensation seeking. Urgency was found to be the characteristic most associated with drinking and driving.

"Our studies of urgency help explain why people end up with DWIs even though, while sober, they abhor the notion of drinking and driving," said McCarthy. "Under the influence of alcohol, some people may feel an exited emotional state and hence greater urges to act on an impulse that they would normally not condone."

McCarthy noted that alternatives to drinking and driving can take more time than some intoxicated individuals are willing to wait. Impulsive , enhanced by alcohol, tend to take the short term reward of convenience and discount the risk of death or legal action. He suggests reducing wait times for taxis, public transit or other transport options could give the impatient drinker a quick and safe option to get home. City planners and policy makers could help by providing bus routes and taxi stands near drinking establishments.

The study, "Direct and Indirect Effects of Impulsivity Traits on Drinking and Driving in Young Adults," was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The study, "Acute alcohol effects on impulsivity: associations with drinking and driving behavior," was published in the journal Addiction.

At the University of Missouri, officials strive to end drunk driving with several programs. "Stripes" is a free taxi service coordinated by MU that provides approximately 10,000 rides per year. MU officials also have worked with the city of Columbia to increase the availability of transportation by providing taxi stands near drinking establishments frequented by students. Another program, "Cheers," provides free soda to designated drivers at most Columbia bars.

"October marked MU's 30th Annual Alcohol Responsibility Month," said Kim Dude, director of MU's Wellness Resource Center. "We presented a month of activities to educate students on how to drink and party safely."

Explore further: Recent decrease seen in U.S. high school drinking and driving

Related Stories

Recent decrease seen in U.S. high school drinking and driving

October 4, 2012
(HealthDay)—The national prevalence of drinking and driving among high school students decreased by 54 percent from 1991 to 2011, with a national prevalence of 10.3 percent noted in 2011, according to a study published ...

Impulsive alcoholics likely to die sooner

August 15, 2011
Alcohol and impulsivity are a dangerous mix: People with current drinking problems and poor impulse control are more likely to die in the next 15 years, a new study suggests. However, they could get by with a little help ...

College women who act impulsively when distressed are at risk for alcohol problems

November 8, 2012
An increasing number of women entering young adulthood engage in heavy drinking behavior, placing them at risk of developing alcohol use disorders (AUDs) as well as other negative consequences such as sexual assault and physical ...

Ontario, Canada: Youth smoking at all-time low; teen binge drinking, driving after cannabis use remain concerns

November 29, 2011
Fewer Ontario teens are smoking cigarettes than ever before -- good news that is tempered by continuing concerns around binge drinking, and driving while under the influence of cannabis, according to the 2011 Ontario Student ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.