“Mad Men” is on tonight (and make sure to check back tomorrow for analysis from ACG Blog contributors). You are almost certain to see someone have a drink at the office. Probably not a good idea, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan say.
Scott Rick and Maurice Schweitzer conducted six experiments in which observers
- “judged the intelligence of targets photographed consuming or merely holding an alcoholic beverage, a non-alcoholic beverage, or nothing”
- “watched a video clip of a speaker making a persuasive argument, while holding and consuming either an alcoholic or a non-alcoholic beverage”
- “judged the intelligence of a target photographed without a beverage” after being exposed to alcohol-related advertisements
- were job managers watching dinner job interviews where the only difference was whether the interviewee, the interviewer, both or neither order a drink
- were “mildly intoxicated MBA students” giving mock interviews to actors who drank either alcohol or a non-alcoholic beverage
- “viewed a hypothetical job interview that manipulated the boss’s drink choice. Participants were then asked what they would order if they were in the job candidate’s position.”
They identified an over-generalized link between alcohol and cognitive impairment—one that exists, but which produces a bias in the observers brought on by just seeing someone holding a drink, or the implication that person has had a drink, despite whether the observer herself has had a drink. Rick and Schweitzer call this the imbibing idiot bias.
The researchers found that
Consuming, or merely holding, an alcoholic beverage reduced perceived intelligence, in the absence of any actual reduction in cognitive performance. We observed this bias even when the person consuming alcohol had his beverage selected for him, suggesting that the bias does not reflect a belief that less intelligent people are most likely to choose to consume alcohol, but rather an implicit association between alcohol and cognitive impairment. We even found that implicitly priming the concept of alcohol caused observers to view targets, holding no beverage at all, as less intelligent. These findings are consistent with an implicit association in memory between alcohol and cognitive impairment.
We also found that alcohol selectively reduced perceived intelligence: Targets were consistently rated as less intelligent, but no less likeable, honest, or genuine, when consuming alcohol.
In interview settings, candidates who consumed alcohol were judged to be less intelligent and less hireable. We document the imbibing idiot bias in informal interview settings with both experienced managers and mildly intoxicated MBA students who assumed the role of a boss in a mock interview.
Prospective job candidates largely fail to anticipate the imbibing idiot bias. Candidates in informal interview settings follow the boss’s lead, even when the boss chooses to consume alcohol. Our demonstration of a robust imbibing idiot bias suggests that this form of mimicry is a mistake.
Although people often choose whether to consume alcohol based on its anticipated pharmacological effects (e.g., Capell, 2008), we identify a very different factor that decision-makers should consider. Our work reveals that consuming alcohol can diminish perceived intelligence even when it has no influence on actual performance. Unfortunately, people in a position to be judged largely fail to anticipate the bias. Taken together, the results suggest that what we drink may say more about us than we think.
Essentially, seeing someone drink alcohol makes you think less of their intelligence. It’s not something you consciously decide, and it’s not something you apply to yourself, either, as evidenced by bosses drinking at interviews but thinking less of the candidates who drank. The bottom line, apparently, is don’t drink during any sort of job interview or situation where you’re to be judged, even if the interviewer is enjoying a nice chardonnay.