French Men Drink More and Faster When the Music Is Cranked to 11

Aug 19 2008 Published by under Alcohol

A field study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research manipulated sound levels in a bar while observing the beer drinking behavior of male patrons.



Guéguen and colleagues
conducted a study of 40 male patrons of two bars. Arrangements were made in advance with the bar owners to set the bar's music level such that a sound pressure level of either 72 decibels or 88 decibels was obtained in the middle of the bar. The ambient sound level was set to 72 or 88 dB on a random schedule for each focal observation. Once the noise level was set, the next male to enter the bar as one of a pair of men and to order a 8 oz glass of draft beer was selected as the target for observation (if both men ordered the beer, both of them were included as subjects). Researchers surreptitiously recorded the number of drinks ordered, the time required to consume each drink and the number of "gulps" per beer until the subject left the bar.
The results indicated that under loud ambient sound conditions, men drank their beer faster (a mean of 11.45 vs 14.51 minutes) and ordered more drinks (a mean of 3.4 vs 2.6). The number of "gulps" required to down a beer did not differ under the two sound conditions (a mean of 7.18 vs 7.02).
The authors advance two hypotheses to explain these results. The first is relates to supposed arousal generated by loud music and seems to be their preferred hypothesis. I find this to be fairly weak absent other manipulations of arousal.
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I favor the second hypothesis which is that loud music precludes conversations, thereby speeding the rate of consumption. It is likely that pub owners already know all about this relationship between ambient noise and drinking rate. The authors cite a paper by Forsyth and Cloonan (2008) which reports on interviews conducted with Glasgow pub staff and patrons to determine the role of ambient music. Although not specific in all particulars the concluding remarks are pertinent:

Here music was used strategically--to recruit customers, to retain them, to mold
behavior, and to deter them from entering or to encourage them to leave. Moreover,
that strategic use of music was mediated by the broader social phenomena we noted
earlier. In the case of Glasgow pubs music is used in such a way as to almost deny the
possibility of going for a ''quiet drink.'' It was used as part of a policy of showing the
town to be a ''party'' town, where music was used to reinforce that image.

The paper by Guéguen and colleagues suggest that it is not merely an effect of creating an atmosphere that attracts a particular hard drinking clientele. Since the ambient sound conditions were randomized in that study within only two bars, one can rule out effects of different self-selected clientele.
Now admittedly, this is not big stuff. Neither dramatic nor particularly surprising. So why bother mentioning it? Well, as I sometimes mention there is at least one major school of thought in the drug abuse science world that focuses on exposure rate as a major causative factor in the conversion of a socially-acceptable recreational drug use rate to a dependent or mal-adaptive state. There is some evidence for the notion that the less you consume, the less likely you are to become dependent. (At a very, very rough level) So factors which might be viewed as optional to the drug consumption experience might be manipulated to reduce the risks.
For example if you are concerned about your drinking for any reason, perhaps because of a family history, a personal history or just because of having to get up the next day, you may want to avoid loud bars.
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Nicolas Guéguen, Céline Jacob, Hélène Le Guellec, Thierry Morineau, and Marcel Lourel. (2008) Sound Level of Environmental Music and Drinking Behavior: A Field Experiment With Beer Drinkers, Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008 Jul 21. [Epub ahead of print]
Alasdair Forsyth; Martin Cloonan. (2008) Alco-pop? The Use of Popular Music in Glasgow Pubs. Popular Music and Society, 31(1): 57 - 78 .

9 responses so far

  • PhysioProf says:

    How about loud music drives away people who aren't there to just pound booze?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Unfortunately the French paper did not measure average in-bar time for all patrons under the two conditions. And the only thing realated to this in the Forsyth paper that I noticed on quick read was the mention of using slow/boring music to rid the bar of undesired "punters", whatever the heck those are.

  • Bee says:

    I'd go with the conversation precluding effect of loud music. You can observe this effect at any house party, no need to go to a bar.

  • joemac53 says:

    I suppose in France there was no dirty old rock and roll, the type Commander Cody called "music to drink beer by"

  • Becca (of sensitive ears) says:

    If I agree to drink better quality alcohol, will the bars agree to turn down the music? Afterall, more $/drink could cancel out fewer drinks per customer.

  • Joetalitarian says:

    @ #3
    House parties are often more personal, if you were to feel more comfortable with less of a threat of the law arresting you leaving or bouncers kicking you out wouldn't you be more likely to imbibe more booze?

  • MissPrism says:

    Where's all that wide range of options the free market's supposed to give you, then, when you want a quiet pint and a chat? Bastards.
    Maybe we'll just have to legislate against loud crap music, like with smoking, and if people don't want to be able to think or converse they can simply wear their iPods to the pub.

  • PhysioProf says:

    I think punters are patrons who nurse a single drink for hours and hours and hours, thus wasting space that could be occupied by real drinkers. Bartenders and bar owners *hate* these people.

  • Chris says:

    Interesting. I like a lot of heavy music, and when I go see an act like Boris (the Japanese band, not the techno pop star), I find that heavier drinking turns what could be a painful sonic experience into a pleasurable one.

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