Alcohol and Common Ground: The Effects of Intoxication on Linguistic Markers of Shared Understanding During Social Exchange

Anna C.S. Garrison, Si On Yoon, Sarah Brown-Schmidt, Talia Ariss, Catharine E. Fairbairn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Most alcohol consumption takes place in social contexts, and the belief that alcohol enhances social interactions has been identified as among the more robust predictors of alcohol use disorder (AUD) development. Yet, we know little of how alcohol affects mental representations of others—what we share and do not share—nor the extent to which intoxication might impact the development of shared understanding (i.e., common ground) between interaction partners. Employing a randomized experimental design and objective linguistic outcome measures, we present two studies examining the impact of alcohol consumption on the development and use of common ground. Method: In Study 1, groups of strangers or friends were administered either alcohol (target Breath Alcohol Content =. 08%) or a control beverage, following which they completed a task requiring them to develop a shared language to describe ambiguous images and then describe those images to either a knowledgeable or a naïve partner. The same procedures were completed in Study 2 using a within-subjects alcohol administration design and all-stranger groups. Results: Study 1 findings did not reach significance but suggested that alcohol may facilitate common ground development selectively among stranger groups. This effect emerged as significant in the context of the within-subjects design of Study 2, b = -0.19, p =. 007, with participants demonstrating greater facility in establishing common ground during alcohol versus control sessions. Conclusions: Results suggest that alcohol facilitates the development of shared linguistic understanding in novel social spaces, indicating common ground as one potential mechanism to consider in our broader examination of alcohol reinforcement and AUD etiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-91
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology of Addictive Behaviors
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • alcohol use
  • common ground
  • social communication
  • social context

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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