Drunken Monkey Hypothesis
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Hi, there

We are now well into summer, or as it’s properly known here, patio season. In Montreal, we take our terrasses very seriously, possibly because we cannot help but be keenly aware of how precious little time remains before the dreaded Canadian winter returns to blanket our city in snow and sadness. We’ve got to make these fleeting warm months count — and we tend to do so with abundant quantities of Quebecois wine, local craft beers, and outrageously expensive cocktails. 

Indeed, in Montreal and beyond, alcohol plays a starring role in a lot of summer pastimes. But our culture’s relationship to alcohol is having an interesting moment. One the one hand, since the pandemic began, we’re drinking even more: alcohol sales have increased substantially since 2019, even when adjusted for inflation. 

On the other hand, non-alcoholic drinks are one of the hottest trends in the beverage industry right now, and an increasing number of young adults are embracing a dry lifestyle. A recent piece in WIRED magazine even explored the rise of the “soberfluencer” and hashtags like #sobercurious.   

In the spirit of the season, today’s newsletter explores both sides of this coin. First, why does alcohol define so much of our culture? And second, why are young people turning away from booze? We looked into the literature to find out.   

Until next time,

Katie and the Dionysian (but still professional) gang @ TDL
Special thanks to TDL Summer Intern Lindsey Turk for her help with this newsletter!

📧  Need something more to read as you sip your beverage of choice? Sign up for the TDL newsletter here.
Today’s topics 👀
🍺 Deep Dive: The Behavioral Economics of Booze
🫂 Field Notes: Tackling Binge Drinking in South Africa
🙅 Viewpoints: Why Young Adults are “Sober Curious” 
DEEP DIVE
🍺 Deep Dive: The Behavioral Economics of Booze

Why do we humans have such a propensity for intoxication, and what behavioral factors play a role? Here are a few insights from the literature.

We’ve been drinking since before we were human. We evolved to digest alcohol ten million years ago — long before homo sapiens emerged. The “drunken monkey hypothesis” suggests that our predecessors started consuming alcohol via ripe, fermenting fruit.

Alcohol brings us together. Drunkenness is theorized to have played an important evolutionary function: helping us bond in a prehistoric world where we might not have been keen to trust unfamiliar others. Inebriation lowers our inhibitions and helps us open up to one another. 

Booze can (sometimes) help us function. In certain contexts, dialing down the volume on our prefrontal cortex can be a good thing. For example, studies suggest that alcohol boosts certain kinds of creativity and helps you speak foreign languages more fluently

Social norms steer our drinking choices. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we tend to drink more if we perceive an expectation to do so. One Norwegian study found that people were actually more prone to risky drinking in work-related contexts, where they felt obliged to participate.

🫂 FIELD NOTES: Tackling Binge Drinking in South Africa

Alcohol has played a unique role in the history of South Africa, where it’s been associated both with racist exploitation and resistance to colonialism. Today, alcohol remains a major part of social life and an important economic driver — but it also exacerbates a range of health concerns, disproportionately affecting poor and Black South Africans. 

TDL partnered with Distell, a multinational brewing and beverage company based in South Africa, to develop and pilot a digitized program to combat binge drinking. We developed a pilot program that centers community ties to help participants cut down binge drinking by a full two thirds. Read the case study to find out how, or reach out to turney@thedecisionlab.com to learn more about this project.
Some of the team from Distell and partner organization SANCA.
VIEWPOINTS
🙅 Viewpoints: Why Young Adults are “Sober Curious”

Don’t let Euphoria fool you: alcohol consumption by young people has significantly dropped around the world (although most notably in Western countries). What’s driving this trend? Are the kids, perhaps, alright? Here are a few behavioral factors driving the modern temperance movement.

Alcohol-related social norms are changing. Young people are placing less pressure on each other to conform to certain expectations around alcohol use. This dispels the FOMO and fear of judgment that may otherwise keep some of us drinking more than we’d like to.

Sobriety is glamorous now. In the past, people may have hesitated to turn down a drink for fear of being seen as prudish or boring. But in the age of soberfluencers and celebrity lines of alcohol-free beverages, staying sober no longer feels incompatible with having your long-awaited hot girl summer.

Young people have less economic freedom. Alcohol can be pricey. With nearly half of Millennials having no savings at all, perhaps it's not surprising that many are choosing not to drink simply in order to save money.

Legalized marijuana has changed the game. Because marijuana is purported to carry fewer health risks, many young people are opting for THC as their drug of choice. In U.S. counties that had recently legalized the drug, alcohol sales fell by 12% compared to those that had not.
A bar graph labelled
The most commonly cited reasons cited by young women who have chosen to go sober. (Source: Bustle)
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Social norms
Social norms drive our choices concerning alcohol a lot more than we might realize. Read more about how the expectations of others can skew our decision-making.
Opportunities in Behavioral Science
TDL is hiring! We are currently looking to hire for a number of roles, including UX Designers, Consultants, and a Product Director. Visit our careers portal for details.

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