Recollecting Binge Drinking Episodes Using Present Verb Tense May Help People Cut Back the Habit, New Study Found

By Lisa Franchi on July 18, 2012

Whenever we recall past experiences, the standard grammar rule tells us to use past tenses. But with binge drinkers, talking about their experiences with alcohol abuse using the present tense instead of the past tense can positively impact their future behaviour, a new study suggests.

A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania headed by Professor Dolores Albarracín conducted three studies regarding the effects of using tenses by college students while recalling the incidence of binge drinking. Their findings show that this practise could positively influence behaviour – which is an integral part in aiding the development of alcohol abuse messages.

The study involved a group of female college students, on average 22 years old who had problems with excessive drinking. In separate trials, the researchers tested the effects of present tense recollections on binge drinking.

In these three experiments, participants were asked to write about their recollection of binge drinking (which was defined in the study as the consumption of five drinks in a row for males and 4 in a row for females). In the first experiment, they wrote about a time in their life that they engaged in excessive drinking. However, instead of using past tense, they were asked to narrate it using present tense. While doing the task, the study authors also evaluated the degree of difficulty the participants had when writing in past or present tense. They found that this factor did not affect their recollections.

Present Tense Recollections and Binge Drinking

The researchers observed a stronger influence on past behaviours among participants. In the second and last experiment, they found that recalling experiences using present tense had more impact on the participants as compared to the past tense recollections.

“It may be best to use the present tense when evoking images of non-drinking behaviours being promoted but the past tense for the drinking behaviours to prevent” said Prof Albarracín. She explained that using present tense recollections may be helpful in reducing alcohol consumption and preventing binge drinking. The study authors recommend the use of present tense when suggesting images of non-drinking behaviours. Prof Albarracín also pointed out that using present tenses in suggesting scenarios in self-help groups may be helpful in preventing abuse tendencies.

‘How we recall and communicate a past event influences future decisions’. When people recall experiences in the past tense, there’s a tendency to go back to doing it. Talking about the past with present tense makes people use their past behaviour as a guide in their future intentions, Prof Albarracín explained.

Her co-authors were Pilar Carrera, Dolores Muñoz, Amparo Caballero, and Itziar Fernàndez and the study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

 

Source of this article:

The present projects past behavior into the future while the past projects attitudes into the future: How verb tense moderates predictors of drinking intentions, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 

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