Films and TV advertisements that contain a strong portrayal of alcohol consumption may drive some viewers to drink more, Dutch researchers found.
In the study, researchers in the Netherlands and Canada gathered 80 male university students, aged 18-29, to one of four groups.
Twenty of the participants watched American Pie, in which characters drank alcohol 18 times and alcoholic drinks were portrayed an additional 23 times, and a commercial break that included ads for alcohol. Another 20 participants watched American Pie and a neutral commercial break with no alcohol ads. In the third group, 20 students watched the film 40 Days and 40 Nights, which contains far less portrayals of drinking than American Pie, with a commercial break including ads for alcohol. The last group watched 40 Days and 40 Nights with a neutral commercial break that contained no alcohol ads.
Participants viewed the movies in a laboratory room that was dressed to look like a home theater room. Students had access to a refrigerator that contained both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
Researchers found that those who watched portrayals of alcohol on TV in both the movie and commercials, drank an average of nearly three 200 ml bottles of alcohol, while those who watched the neutral ads and the “non-alcoholic” film drank an average of 1.5 bottles of alcohol.
“This is the first experimental study to show a direct effect of exposure to alcohol portrayals on TV on viewers’ immediate drinking behavior,” said Rutger Engels, professor in developmental psychopathology at the Behavioral Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen.
“The results were straightforward and substantial: those who watched both the alcoholic film and commercials drank, on average, 1.5 bottles more than those who watched the non-alcoholic film and commercials.
“Our study clearly shows that alcohol portrayals in films and advertisements not only affects people’s attitudes and norms on drinking in society, but it might work as a cue that affects craving and subsequent drinking in people who are drinkers. This might imply that, for example, while watching an ad for a particular brand of beer, you are not only more prone to buy that brand next time you are in the supermarket, but also that you might go immediately to the fridge to take a beer,” Engels said.
The most alcohol consumed by one participant during the study was four bottles and the least amount was none, the researchers said.
“Implications of these findings may be that, if moderation of alcohol consumption in certain groups is strived for, it may be sensible to cut down on the portrayal of alcohol in programs aimed at these groups and the commercials shown in between. Another implication may be that in situations in which this is possible (e.g. cinemas), availability of alcohol should be reduced when movies and commercials contain alcohol portrayal and individuals in a group at risk for problematic drinking are present,” the researchers concluded in the study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
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