Anticipatory social anxiety and alcohol use: An ecologically valid laboratory experiment

Michael Bernstein, University of Rhode Island


Research has yielded mixed findings on the relation between social anxiety and alcohol use, although no laboratory studies on this topic have been conducted in naturalistic drinking settings. The current study examined the effect of an anticipatory social anxiety manipulation, as well as trait social anxiety, on “alcohol” consumption in a bar-laboratory. We also sought to validate a new placebo alcohol administration procedure. Fifty-four same-sex groups of 2–3 participants and one confederate arrived to the laboratory for a study that ostensibly examined the effect of alcohol use on language fluency. After completing survey questions, participants in the social anxiety condition were told the language fluency portion would consist of giving a five-minute video recorded speech to someone of the opposite sex about how to impress a person on a date. Those in the control group were informed they would have to read a poem to themselves. Before their alleged fluency task, participants were allowed to consume a variety of mixed drinks ad lib in a bar laboratory. No beverages actually contained alcohol, but a number of steps were taken to increase the perception that alcohol was being used. Although the social anxiety induction was successful, neither state social anxiety, trait social anxiety, nor the state by trait social anxiety interaction predicted laboratory alcohol consumption in a multi-level model controlling for a substantial group effect. However, this procedure was highly successful in convincing mostly underage participants they were drinking real alcohol. Findings are considered in light of substantive questions pertaining to the social anxiety manipulation, and methodological considerations relating to placebo alcohol believability. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Psychology, Experimental

Recommended Citation

Michael Bernstein, "Anticipatory social anxiety and alcohol use: An ecologically valid laboratory experiment" (2014). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1555635.