According to several surveys, a large number of people (66%, in one of them conducted among students) have experienced a “black intoxication”, where pieces of time are forgotten – yet c It’s a subject that, until relatively recently, we didn’t understand much about.
One of the problems with subject discovery (using humans directly rather than an animal model) is that you now have to have black drunk subjects drop into your office or be forced to rely on their memories of the moments where they were. , uh, drunken blackout. However, in the past, you could always opt for secret option number three: an ethically dubious experiment in which you served alcoholics with liquor, performing tests during the ensuing blackout.
That’s what happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when researcher Donald Goodwin recruited alcoholics from hospitals to take part in a series of unusual memory tests.
In the first part of the study, subjects were asked about their own experiences of blackouts and how others described their behavior during these events. Perhaps surprisingly, he found that people seemed to be largely in control of their faculties during these events.
“The most dramatic blackouts were in travel,” Goodwin wrote in his 1969 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
“About a quarter of the subjects while drinking had at least once found themselves in a place without remembering how they got there. Often this involved walking long distances over a period of a day or more. To have negotiated such distances, the person obviously had to have some control of his faculties.”
“In some cases, checks had been written, planes boarded, hotels checked in, but the person could not consciously recall any of these events.”
Friends who had seen them in these states described them as drunk, but behaving normally. Talking to these patients provided a lot of intriguing information about blackouts (did you know you can become aware of a blackout while awake? “A subject found himself dancing without remembering what he had done in the previous six hours”).
However, where these experiments crossed an ethical line unlikely to be crossed today was when Goodwin gave the patients alcohol.
Goodwin took the subjects – some with a history of blackouts, some without – and gave them up to a pint of bourbon to drink for four hours. During this time, they were tested on “remote memory, immediate memory (ability to remember events for one minute), short-term memory (ability to remember events for 30 minutes) and recent memory (ability to remember the events immediately preceding the consumption of alcohol). period)”.
Throughout the experiment, the volunteers saw a series of pornographic films and different toys. Failure to recognize these things the next day established whether they had had a power outage or not. During this experiment, he observed for himself how the volunteers could act quite normally in the event of a power failure.
In another experiment, he held a frying pan in his hand and asked participants if they were hungry. Hearing their response, he then informed them that the pot was full of dead mice. Interestingly, he found that subjects forgot this event after 30 minutes and could not remember it the next day, but could remember it about two minutes after it happened, suggesting that short-term memory term was still intact during these outages.
The experiments helped inform what we think is happening during today’s blackouts, supported by other experiments in animal models. The best idea we have at the moment is that drinking alcohol impairs the hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays a major role in learning and memory. The problem seems to be a failure not to recall memories that are there but inaccessible, but to not create those long-term memories in the first place.
“We think a lot of what’s happening is that alcohol suppresses the hippocampus and it’s incapable of creating that record of events,” said Aaron White of the National Institute on Abuse. of alcohol and alcoholism in the United States at the BBC. “It’s like a temporary space in the band.”